Making sure you get the water your body needs.
On average, water makes up about 60% of our bodies. It comprises about 75% of body weight in infants and about 55% in older adults. And since that water can’t be stored, it needs to be replaced constantly. We know getting enough water every day is vital for life, but how much do we actually need?
The “eight glasses of water a day” recommendation comes from the 1945 United States Food and Nutrition Board, which advised two-and-a-half liters of daily water intake. However, some argue the findings weren’t based on any solid evidence, and the recommendation also stated that water intake could come from food sources. Registered and licensed dietitian Shaina Yohannan recommends 11 1/2 cups per day for healthy women and 15 1/2 cups per day for healthy men. Of course, this can vary based on health concerns such as breastfeeding, increased activity level, renal diseases, heart failure, etc.
Dehydration, or a loss in body fluids, results in mood changes, headaches and unclear thinking, and it can lead to constipation and kidney stones. Anyone can become dehydrated, but there are a few groups that are most at risk. This includes babies and infants — due to a lower body weight, they are more sensitive to small amounts of fluid loss. People with long-term health conditions such as diabetes or alcohol addiction are also prone, as well as athletes, who can lose a greater amount of body fluid through sweat.
Being dehydrated can also lead to reduced motivation and increased fatigue, which can make exercise more physically and mentally difficult. Even mild dehydration (fluid loss of 1-3%) can affect your energy levels and mood and lead to an impairment in memory and brain performance. Considering that muscle is about 80% water, it’s wise to have a bottle of water nearby during intensive exercise.
Your thirst reflex is how your body tells you that you’re in a water deficit. However, this tends to fade with age, so older people can become dehydrated without knowing it. You can usually tell when you’re starting to feel dehydrated if you’re sluggish or have a headache. A good indicator is to look at the color of your urine. It should be a pale-yellow color; if it’s a brighter or darker yellow, you need to drink more fluids.
On the other hand, there is no real advantage to drinking excessive amounts of water. It’s a myth that drinking more water helps flush out toxins or helps your kidneys in any way that’s significant. A 2018 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association tested this using 631 patients with kidney disease, and in the end, drinking more water did not benefit any of them in terms of kidney function. The only change from drinking extreme amounts of water will be the color of your urine, which may go from pale-yellow to clear, but this has no medical implications for your health.
The quantity of water has no direct correlation to the quality of your skin, either. Unfortunately for skin enthusiasts, drinking water won’t prevent the top layer of your skin from becoming dry or determine its moisture level. Furthermore, chugging copious amounts of water won’t help you lose weight, though if you’re replacing liquid calories such as soda or coffee with cream and sugar, it can reduce your overall calorie intake.
“Just meeting the daily needs is best,” Yohannan said. “Excess can lead to fluid overload in some individuals, which can cause hyponatremia,” which is when the sodium level in the blood is below normal.
Despite the things that water can’t do, there’s a lot more that it does. It regulates your body temperature, lubricates your joints, protects your spinal cord and gets rid of wastes through urine, sweat and bowel movements. It’s important to optimize your water intake to help your body and brain function and generally improve your well-being.