How proper hydration affects your body

Every third week of October, the Australian Water Association (AWA) organises National Water Week to bring awareness to the value of water. It urges individuals, communities and organisations to help protect our water environments and resources, and use our water wisely.

The theme for 2020 is Reimagining our Water Future, and the AWA are asking people to consider the way we use and reuse water to ensure there’s enough of it in the future.

There’s a multitude of ways we as individuals can save and reuse water, from skipping the car wash to using shower water to water our gardens, but one thing we can’t skimp on is how much water we drink.

Staying hydrated by drinking enough water is one of the first rules of health and nutrition. Supposedly our bodies can last weeks without food but just a few days without water. This isn’t surprising when you know that the human body is made up of around 60 per cent water.

How much water should I drink?
It actually varies from person to person depending on age, weight, sex diet, the temperature and medical conditions.

Typically, we get around one-fifth of our daily water from food, but the body expels water consistently throughout the day from urinating, breathing and sweating. This needs to be replaced.

As a general rule, men need 10 cups of fluids each day and women need eight (add another cup per day if you are pregnant or breastfeeding). Babies need 0.7 to 0.8 litres of fluid per day from breast milk or formula, while children need between four cups (for one-year-olds) and six to eight cups per day (for teenagers). In Australia, one cup is equivalent to 250ml.

You can get water from any fluids — including tea and coffee, fruit juice and soft drinks. But be careful how much of these you drink since they can make you put on weight, damage your teeth and have an unwanted stimulant effect.

Being dehydrated can affect us physically and mentally. Here are the positive effects drinking enough water has on your body.

Relieving constipation?
Constipation is a common problem that’s characterised by infrequent bowel movements and difficulty passing stools.

Inactivity, diet changes, illness, and even stress can all cause constipation, and being dehydrated can worsen the problem.

If the constipation isn’t solving itself, exercise, over-the-counter medicines and increasing fluid intake are often recommended as treatment.

If constipation is accompanied by dizziness, abdominal pain or blood in your stool, see a doctor as they could be signs of something more serious.

You could lose weight
Water can increase satiety and boost metabolic rate. A 2013 study showed that drinking an additional 500ml of water three times a day before meals for eight weeks led to significant reductions in body weight and body fat in 50 overweight young women. Drinking water 30 minutes before meals is most effective.

Water can also replace empty, sugary calories from other drinks that people tend to consume with meals.

Your joints work better
Water makes up a large part of your joint cartilage that helps absorb shock and make bone-against-bone movements smoother. Water also can help keep gout (a painful joint condition) at bay. It helps flush toxins from your body that could inflame your joints, too.

Keeps your brain sharp
Your brain is strongly influenced by your hydration status. You may not remember as well, think as clearly, or concentrate as easily when you’re low on water. Even mild dehydration, such as losing 1–3 per cent of the body’s normal water volume, can impair many aspects of brain function.

A fluid loss of 1–3 per cent equals about 0.5–2kg of body weight loss for a person weighing 68kg.

Helps to keep your kidneys healthy
Your kidneys have the important job of removing waste from the blood. That waste, including acids, can build up if you don’t drink enough.

Dehydration can also lead to urinary stones and urinary tract infections.

Urinary stones are painful clumps of mineral crystal that form in the urinary system, the most common being kidney stones.

A higher fluid intake increases the volume of urine passing through the kidneys. This dilutes the concentration of minerals, so they’re less likely to crystallize and form clumps.

You avoid dehydration
If you don’t replace the fluid lost through normal bodily functions throughout the day, you can become dehydrated, especially when it’s hot.

Symptoms of dehydration may include thirst, infrequent urination, dry mouth, dizziness and confusion. You can also lose sodium and potassium that your body needs.

May improve physical performance
Dehydration can have a noticeable effect on your physical performance, even if you lose as little as 2 per cent of your body’s water content. To replace the fluid they lose through sweating, athletes tend to drink water with electrolytes (minerals like sodium and potassium). It may seem incredible that dehydration this mild can affect how well your training session goes, but it makes a bit more sense when you consider that muscle is about 80 per cent water.

Your heart works better
Your ticker doesn’t have to work as hard when you drink enough water. In fact, even mild dehydration affects your blood vessels (making them less springy) about the same as smoking a cigarette. Skimping on water also leads to less blood in your body, which can lower your blood pressure and raise your heart rate. It takes just 15 to 20 minutes for enough water to even things out.

Trust your thirst
Most people don’t need to consciously think about their water intake, as the thirst mechanism in the brain is very effective. However, the thirst mechanisms can start to malfunction in older age so it’s important to keep an eye on how much you’re drinking.

How much is too much?
Drinking too much water can cause hyponatraemia, a condition that occurs when the level of sodium in the blood is too low. You also don’t want to overdo it if you have certain health issues or you take medications that cause you to retain water, including NSAIDs, opiates, and antidepressants.

Drink enough to keep your urine clear, or a pale yellow, but not so much that you spend all day in the bathroom. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure.

Do you drink the recommended amount of water each day? How much fluid do you get from drinks such as tea and coffee? Do you carry a reusable water bottle around with you?

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Written by Ellie Baxter


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