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In some cases, the simple act of drinking more water can make a meaningful difference in how you feel.
Why is hydration so important?
Water is an essential element to support life. We can fast for long periods, but with-holding water can be fatal after two or three days.
According to an article published in the journal Nature
- Water is a building block of the body. It takes up space in tissues and maintains their structure and architecture. Water makes up 75% of an infant’s weight, decreasing gradually through the lifespan to an estimated 55% in the elderly
- Water is essential to transport other nutrients. It’s the best solvent for glucose, amino acids, ions, and enables them to move freely.
- Water carries cellular waste from tissues.
- It regulates body temperature, especially in hot environments and when exercising.
- Water lubricates joints
In North America, an estimated 80% of water intake/day comes from fluid intake, the remainder 20% from foods
7 reasons hydration matters
1. Hydration maximizes physical performance
Athletes lose up to 10% of body weight in water during major athletic events. But according to studies, losing as little as 2% of body water increases fatigue, reduces endurance, alters the capacity to regulate body temperature, and may even affect motivation levels.
Hypohydration has also been shown to exert effects on hormones associated with performance- significantly increasing cortisol and when combined with caloric restriction, decreasing testosterone concentrations.
Hydrating correctly during and after exercise reduces free radical damage induced by dehydration and strenuous exercise.
2. Water influences cognition and brain function
Similar to malnutrition, inadequate hydration may contribute to neurologic symptoms. Extreme examples include delirium and confusion in case of severe dehydration. But even mild dehydration in some studies has been shown to cause concentration problems, affects short-term memory, and reduces your levels of alertness. Water is required to transport nutrients and activate different metabolic processes in the brain.
Interestingly, a study showed that thirst is a reliable measure to detect cognitive problems. In this study published in the journal Appetite, the researchers found that people who reported being thirsty improved their cognitive function after water intake. The authors concluded that mental performance is susceptible to dehydration.
3. Good hydration prevents gastrointestinal symptoms
Fluids are absorbed throughout the gastrointestinal tract. It is estimated that we absorb up to 15 liters of liquid every day, and our water intake should keep up with this number. Luckily, there is also some water content in foods, but given this number, it is not surprising why hypohydration contributes to constipation
4. Water intake is crucial to facilitate kidney function
The kidneys receive an impressive volume of blood every hour, and water balance is essential to maintain blood pressure, filter waste, and prevent kidney problems. Having available fluids in the blood allows the kidneys to regulate plasma concentration. When the blood is concentrated, the kidneys promote water retention and eliminate water in excess
Along with fluid balance regulation, the kidneys use water to eliminate waste. When the kidneys can’t filter enough liquid, minerals accumulate and inadequate hydration can contribute to kidney stone formation
5. Water intake can affect how much we eat and how our metabolism responds
In a 2010 study in the journal Obesity, when combined with a lower calorie diet, drinking 500mL (2 cups) of water before 3 meals/day for 3 months, led to 44% greater rate of weight loss among middle-aged adults compared to those who didn’t drink water prior to meals
In the China Health and Nutrition Survey 2006-2011, every cup of plain water intake (from 2 to 5 cups/day) was associated with a 6.5% decrease risk in men and 8.4% decrease risk in women becoming overweight.
Drinking water can help with weight loss when it replaces the habit of drinking caloric fluids.
6. Water can improve some types of headaches
Sometimes headaches are a direct effect of dehydration, but the link is difficult to trace in other cases.
In a randomized trial with migraine and tension headache patients, they were assigned to two groups to assess effects of hydration on headache prevention. One group received a placebo, and the other increased water consumption. The number of headache episodes was the same, but the intensity of the headaches decreased, and the duration of the headaches shortened when water intake increased.
7. Water promotes skin health
One of the signs of dehydration is tenting of the skin and a reduction in skin elasticity. Most of us won’t reach that level of dehydration, but it reveals how important hydration is in maintaining skin health.
There are claims that drinking water contributes to a glowing complexion and prevents wrinkles. These claims are not yet confirmed or denied, but there is research to demonstrate that proper fluid intake can help with skin dryness and elasticity.
Developing a system around daily hydration
It’s not our place to tell you how much water to drink, however we can provide these tips to help you experiment with what feels best for you:
- Drink water from a large container. By the end of the day, human nature will have you getting up from your desk and filling a 1L container x 2, rather than an 250mL glass x 8
- Choose a container that brings you joy. It should be appealing to look at, easy to hold and carry, easy to open and close, doesn’t leak, made of durable and quality materials and easy to wash. When you’re trying to develop a new habit, any amount of friction can become an excuse to not follow through.
- Drink with a straw (a reusable one of course)– straws allow you to drink more, faster…great strategy for drinking water…not so much for caloric beverages
- Use visual cues – keep water in crystal clear sight. See it, sip it. After a few days of visual cues you may notice you’re more sensitive to thirst, almost like you’re craving water!
- Stack a water-drinking habit with an existing habit. Pour a coffee, refill your water bottle. Eat a meal, refill your water bottle. Get up from your desk to stretch your legs, refill your water bottle.