You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: You need to drink water to be healthy.
But this doesn’t tell you everything you need to know to properly hydrate for optimal wellness and performance. On top of that, you hear contradicting information from the medical community and health experts. So it’s no surprise that many are confused about how to properly hydrate and avoid the mistakes people make when it comes to drinking enough water.
The Role of Hydration in Health
Water plays a critical role in the physiological processes of the body. It’s essential in developing and maintaining good health and contributes to circulation, digestion, and muscle function. It’s a key component in your body’s regulatory systems and aids in detoxification.
You might also be surprised to know that dehydration contributes to a wide range of health issues. When the gastrointestinal (GI) system is low on water, it can lead to issues such as colitis, constipation, and heartburn.
Increasing your water intake can relieve the symptoms related to these and other health concerns. Over-the-counter and prescriptions medication can be helpful, but only once you’ve addressed any issues related to hydration.
Factors that Influence Hydration
How much water you need depends on a number of factors. Blanket statements like “Drink 8 glasses of water per day” fall short of helping people who have unique needs and health histories. The amount of water you need comes down to what’s right for you, and figuring this out is a process.
The following are some of the factors that determine water intake needs:
- Previous or existing medical conditions
- Physical activity (type, amount, intensity, etc.)
- Prescription medications
Ageing is one of the biggest factors that influences hydration. Among the many changes that occur as you age is the decreased ability to store water in the body. Older individuals are less able to adapt to temperature changes, which contributes to issues related to dehydration. Chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and kidney problems affect hydration.
Exercise causes short-term dehydration, which is why you need to drink plenty of water before, during, and after your workouts. Athletes are susceptible to dehydration and require a higher intake compared to the average person. Living and working in a hot climate increases your need for proper hydration. Extreme heat is a stressor to the body’s regulatory systems, and humidity makes it harder to cool off.
But How Much Water Do You Really Need?
Luckily for you, your body has its own mechanisms for regulating your thirst and fluid intake. Hormones such as vasopressin work to prevent dehydration, and your thirst tells you that you need to drink more water. Although not drinking enough water each day is more common, drinking too much water can also be problematic. Hyponatremia occurs when there’s so much water in the body that sodium concentrations become too low.
A good recommendation to start with is based on individual body weight. Take your weight in kilograms (kg) and divide it by 0.024 to calculate the number of milliliters (ml) you should drink each day.
- 68.2 divided by 0.024 = 2,841 ml = 2.8 liters per day
Use this as a starting point and adjust according to your thirst, energy levels, physical activity, and any of the other factors listed above.
Strategies for Proper Hydration
You need to have the right strategies in place to drink enough water on a consistent basis. Have a designated water bottle in your work area. Given that most people spend the majority of their days at work, having water close by makes it easy to drink more water.
If you find it difficult to remember to drink water, set an alarm to go off periodically throughout the day. You can do this using your computer, smartphone, or watch. You can even set up reminders in your calendar. What matters most is that you use a tool that works for you. Remember, health strategies should come down to your individual needs.
Add a pinch of high-quality salt to every liter of water
This maintains optimal sodium balance and can replace many of the minerals that are lost through intense exercise and high temperatures. Like nutrition, your hydration needs fluctuate. The most important thing you can do is to be in tune with how your body responds to a given amount of water. Pay attention to your performance over time and don’t be afraid to experiment to find what works for you.
Knowing how to hydrate will ensure that your body’s metabolic needs are being met. Water plays a critical role in a wide range of health functions. Dehydration contributes to various illnesses and symptoms that can be addressed through proper hydration. How much you need to drink depends on many different factors and your unique needs. You can experiment over time to determine the right amount for you.