Water—it’s pretty important. It covers 71% of the Earth’s surface and makes up roughly 60% of a person’s body weight. We are constantly reminded to drink plenty of it on hot days and when exercising. But, why is water so important to our well-being? How do we know when we need to drink water, and how much we should drink each day? Simple questions, right? But, it’s often the simple things that get overlooked.
Water: What’s the deal?
Water does more than simply quench thirst. It cleanses the body of toxins by flushing them out of our systems. It also acts as a transport system to get nutrients to the cells that make up the body. Water even regulates body temperature, protects joints, and aids in the maintenance of a healthy spine. Between each vertebra that makes up the spine there are intervertebral discs that act as cushions to protect the spine from the strain and stress of daily activities and even the pressure from gravity itself. Water is a key ingredient to allowing these mini-shock absorbers to do their jobs. With hydration from water, these intervertebral discs gain more cushion and elasticity, allowing for better protection for the joints of the spine against wear and tear. So, the more water we drink, the more hydrated our intervertebral discs can become, and the more protection they can provide against degeneration of our joints and spines.
How much water should I drink today?
According to the Institute of Medicine, men should aim to drink about 3 liters of water each day (that’s 13 cups), and women should drink close to 2.2 liters every day (9 cups of water). Other research indicates that dividing your body weight in half will give you the number of ounces of water to drink on a daily basis. By the time you start to feel thirsty and get that dryness in your mouth, your body is already mildly dehydrated and you’ve lost 1-2% of your body’s water supply. So, it is important to drink throughout the day, particularly leading up to, during, and following physical activities.
The amount of water and hydration each person needs everyday must be gauged on an individual basis. Activity levels, temperatures, and level of health all must be taken into account when determining the optimum amount of water a person should consume daily. Water is lost through urination, respiration, and sweating, among other avenues, and must be replenished constantly.
How should I hydrate when I’m exercising?
When it comes to exercise, it is good to start hydrating a few hours beforehand, and drink 2-3 glasses of water prior to the activity. The American College of Sports Medicine also recommends the consumption of drinks with sodium and potassium (electrolytes) prior to activity, and even eating a salted snack. This encourages the intake of more fluids and increases water retention. It is also recommended to drink 1 glass of water every 15-20 minutes while engaging in the activity. Muscle cramping during exercise can be a sign of dehydration and loss of electrolytes.
Following exercise, people are also encouraged to drink 2-3 more glasses of water or a sports drink to rehydrate and replenish the lost electrolytes. Sports drinks can usually be diluted though, to lower the sugar content per drink. Again, this also depends on the level of activity and the amount of sweat produced while participating. It is a good idea to talk with a health care professional to figure out the perfect ratio of water to electrolyte balance you need with your activity level and body make up.
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
Just as a person can be dehydrated, one can also become overly hydrated. Although this is rare, it does occur. When participating in physical activities, particularly endurance activities (like triathlons and marathons), we sweat, and this causes a loss of sodium. If too much water is taken in, without replenishing those lost electrolytes, this over hydration can occur, causing dilution of electrolytes in the blood stream and an inability of the kidneys to excrete the excess water. Symptoms of this condition are similar to dehydration with the onset of nausea or vomiting, headache, fatigue, muscle weakness, etc. Balance of water and electrolytes is key when carrying out physical activities.
Alcohol and soda are fluids. Do they hydrate?
Unfortunately alcohol and caffeinated beverages actually increase dehydration, and are therefore counterproductive when working towards proper hydration.
Is water the only way to hydrate?
Up to 20% of daily hydration comes from the foods we eat. For instance, watermelons and tomatoes are 90% water.
Wrapping it up…
So, a balanced intake of water is pretty important to allow for optimal athletic performance and overall maintenance of health and function ability. Again, everyone’s ideal amount of daily water intake differs to an extent, so don’t hesitate to ask your health care provider what is right for you.
If you ever have any questions or would like more information on anything I discuss in this forum, don’t hesitate to contact me. Our office phone number is 636-244-5223, and our e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading.
Abby Scheer, D.C.