Despite the vast majority of people accepting the importance of hydration to your health, 75% of the US population chronically dehydrated. We know it is important but we don’t know what it actually does for the most part. Understanding what happens once you pour water down the hatch would make the recommendations a touch more pressing to the average person.
Of course, dehydration is one of the issues drowned out by drinking water but so are constipation, UTIs, kidney stones, hangovers, and other illnesses. Effective hydration isn’t just fighting off illness; it is improving weight loss efforts, nutrient absorption, blood oxygen circulation, cognitive function, and digestion.
Hydration and both physical and mental health are inexorably linked. Although we are aware of benefits and implications, up to 55% of Canadian children drink less than 3 glasses of water a day. The general populace may be experiencing developmental barriers, concentration problems and illnesses unnecessarily.
Impact of Hydration on Physical and Mental Health and Athletic Ability
Our physical health is considerably impacted by hydration levels
Working from the outside in; hydration maintains and brightens your skin. Water helps to produce the protein, collagen, which is responsible for the structure of your bones, skin, tendons and ligaments. Increased hydration helps to fight wrinkles, acne and other skin issues experienced on the surface level.
Enhancing Your Digestive System
Improved hydration habits have also been verified to improve the digestive system. From helping produce saliva for breaking down food to nutrient and oxygen circulation; remaining hydrated is a huge part of your digestion system. Dramatically reduced water intake often results in digestive problems inclusive of constipation. I’m sure you can agree, this is not a desirable outcome for anyone.
The mechanics of the digestive system is one beneficiary and its performance is another. Hunger, cravings, energy levels and metabolism are all connected by water. If you are planning to undertake a weight loss diet, how does water feature in your plans? Hydrating properly can increase caloric burn rates up to 30% for men and women. In addition, thirst is often mistaken as hunger causing many to overeat as a response.
Fighting Illness and Disease
On a more serious note, hydration has a critical role to play in preventing and defeating both mild and serious illnesses. The origin of many diseases may not be dehydration but it is frequently a factor. Research has proven consistent chronic dehydration is consistent and contributory in the cases of:
– Kidney stones, failure and urolithiasis
– Urinary Tract Infections
– Hypertension / High Blood Pressure
– Heart Disease
– Venous thromboembolism / Deep Vein Thrombosis and Strokes
While these diseases are quite frightening, that is not the aim. The aim is to demonstrate the serious role hydration plays in physical health and how the population might be ignoring implications.
The retracting stigma around mental health is resultant of the spotlight shone across developed society. Understanding factors causing mental health struggles has been a valuable development in academic research. This has drawn surprising correlations between hydration and cognitive performance, development and depression.
Dehydration causes a deterioration in mood, concentration, alertness and short term memory. While each person has reason to prevent this, it is most concerning in younger and older populations especially in hot climates.
A lack of water saps energy and concentration at an important phase of youth development causing reduced learning retention. Similarly, concentration and memory loss are prevalent in dehydrated elderly. Unfortunately, studies have even connected dehydration to delirium and increasing frailty.
Depression and Anxiety
Sadly, the impact of dehydration on mental health doesn’t stop at that. Depression, anxiety and panic attacks are 3 potential results of prolonged thirst. Our brains are made up of almost 75% water and dehydration impairs performance. This is an over-simplification and unduly insufficient explanation so allow us to be a little more technical.
Depression is often a result of decreasing levels of serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical released in your brain with amino acids which are made, in part, of water. This is contributed to by stress caused to your body from dehydration – stress that is typically defended by your auto-immune production of cortisol. Dehydration limits your production of extra cortisol leaving your defences weakened.
Growing anxiety levels have resulted in more panic attacks. It is just an unfortunate consequence of the times we are living in. It is important to state that panic attacks en masse are not induced by dehydration. However, it is fair to say that some are indirectly caused by associated triggers. Increased heart rate, headaches, dizziness, muscle fatigue and weakness are all triggers causable by dehydration .
Without telling you what you already know, your ability to exercise and perform athletically is largely impacted by hydration for a host of reasons.
Athletes can lose up to 10% of body weight through sweating. It only requires a loss of 2% to see a decrease in mental and physical performance. Furthermore, over 5% can reduce the capacity for physical endeavour by up to 30% according to Sports Cardiology BC. This can be compounded by nausea, diarrhea, headaches, vomiting and other gastrointestinal problems resulting from incorrectly hydrating.
Your thermoregulation or temperature control system also relies heavily on hydration. Without replenishing your hydration levels during athletics, your body loses its ability to cool naturally. This creates a domino effect of trying to produce more sweat and rapidly decreasing your body water supplies.
Abilities Limited & Recovery Extended
In addition, your body needs nutrients such as sodium, potassium and magnesium coursing through your blood stream to serve muscle groups and prevent cramping. Your maximum aerobic power (VO2 max) and cardiac output maximum are reduced significantly when hydration is neglected.
Beyond the performance challenges, our recovery is hampered by poor hydration habits. Slow provision of nutrients means lactic acid remains in the system and muscle groups don’t get the fuel source needed to repair muscle damage.
What is the recommended amount and how do you achieve it?
Rehydrating is not always a fixed measure no matter how many advertisements you see to drink 8 glasses of water a day. As we all lead different lives with differing levels of physical exertion, our water output will be different. Take into account your environment, exercise, health and pregnancy if that is a factor for you. Those facts of life will increase your hydration needs.
As per the Mayo Clinic, a reasonable place to start is 3.7 litres for men and 2.7 litres for women. This replenishes all the water you lose naturally through perspiration, breathing, bowel movements and excretion. While it may seem like a significant amount to try and consume every day, 20% of that typically comes from food. That is roughly 0.7 of a litre for men and 0.54 for women.
The obvious best source of hydration is water as it is a direct substitute. We agree, a boring life ensues if you only ever drink water so consider alternatives. Coconut water, milk, fruit infused water, fruit juice, watermelon, sports drinks and tea boast a high water content. Once sugar is accounted for, it becomes a little easier to stomach the need.
Watch out for negatively impacting drinks. No doubt the worry you were waiting to hear which of your favorites make this list. ‘Excessive’ coffee, soda, beer, wine, hot cocoa, sweet tea and energy drinks are among the worst offenders for hydration. Excessive coffee is considered more than two cups a day.
How to tell if you are dehydrated?
Dehydration poses considerable risks over the long term and is often easily rectified. The advice would always be to never let yourself get to such a point of dehydration. In case you do though, some obvious signs to look out for include:
- Thirsty (yes, obvious)
- Bad breath
- Dark colored urine
- Muscle Cramps
- Dry skin
- Rapid heart beat
How to get into the habit of drinking enough water?
Believe it or not, drinking the right amount of water easily becomes a habit with the right discipline. Making the decision to take a proactive approach is the fundamental piece. Once you have decided to adopt the healthier choice, it is easy to enact some steps to follow. Different people take different approaches to increasing their water intake and those methods include:
1. Set a goal – Measure how much you drink each day in comparison.
2. Filling a 2/3 litre container at the start of each day and working on it through.
3. Drink with meals – Have a glass of water before, during and after a meal to assist digestion.
4. Recognize every time you get thirsty or hungry – Thirst is a sign you are already dehydrated enough to lose focus.
5. Create daily reminders – Whether on your phone or posted notes, remind yourself often enough until it becomes automatic.
6. Flavor – Try flavoring some of your drinks to break any monotony that creep in.
Staying hydrated or drinking 8 glasses of water is a cliché scoffed at by many. It is easy to shrug in agreement that you will get around to it without taking any action. Unfortunately, it becomes forgotten about behind the urgent matters of your to do list. However, over time, detrimental impacts can build up and cause a variety of health issues.
People nowadays are full of different wants and dreams apart from those who are sick; those who are sick only dream of being healthy.
Proactivity on hydration, despite how many times you might need to go to the bathroom, is important. If you are concerned you will interrupt your sleep, cut yourself off earlier!