How much water should you drink a day this summer?
More than half of your body is water. It's in your skin, your blood, your organs, and all the other cells in your body. So, how much water should you drink a day to stay adequately hydrated? That depends.
For years, most of the medical science community agreed adults should drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day. Whether you're feeling thirsty or quenched, that was the goal — 64 ounces, or half a gallon. Now, that's changed a bit. Although the benefits of drinking water remain constant, how much you need depends on your individual needs and circumstances.
How much H2O is enough?
Research published in Science found different people need different amounts of water. To figure out how much water you should drink per day, several factors should be considered, including:
- Age (as you age, you can more easily become dehydrated)
- Body size and composition (muscle and fat hold different amounts of water)
- Humidity levels, air temperature, and other environmental factors (your environment can cause you to sweat and lose water)
- Medication you take (some medications may cause you to lose or retain water)
- Physical activity level (exercise and manual labor can both affect the amount of water you need)
or breastfeeding status (growing or feeding another
person may require extra water)
- Sex (men generally need more water than women)
- Underlying health conditions (drinking water can help lower blood sugar levels and manage diabetes)
Although your specific water needs vary, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers some general guidelines. Healthy women should drink about 11.5 cups of water per day and healthy men should aim for around 15.5 cups.
That might sound like a lot of water, but fruits and vegetables, and other foods count toward your water intake as well. In fact, the food you eat every day provides about 20% of your recommended daily water consumption. Other drinks — fruit juices, milk, and even caffeinated beverages like coffee — also contain water.
Why water matters
Water is essential to keeping your body hydrated and functioning at its best. If you don't drink enough water, you risk becoming dehydrated and having your body function poorly. Water helps your body:
- Avoid overheating by maintaining a normal body temperature
- Digest foods and nourish your organs
- Keep the joints, spinal cord, and other parts of your body well lubricated
- Maintain healthy, hydrated skin
- Manage your body weight, which reduces your risk of obesity and related diseases
- Prevent constipation
- Reduce your risk for kidney stones
- Remove waste through urination, sweating, and bowel movements
- Stay mentally sharp and physically coordinated
Staying hydrated during exercise
Getting enough exercise is an important part of maintaining good health. However, exercising often includes sweating, and the more you sweat, the more water you lose. Remember to drink extra water per day when exercising.
The American Council on Exercise recommends drinking fluids before, during, and after you exercise. Here's a general rule to follow:
- Two hours before exercising, drink 17 to 20 ounces of water and weigh yourself.
- During your workout, drink 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes.
- After working out, weigh yourself again and drink 16 to 24 ounces for every pound lost.
Plain water is the best hydrator. However, post-workout sports drinks can also be effective if your workouts are intense and last 45 minutes to an hour because the sodium they contain may help you rehydrate faster.
Recognizing when you need more water
Your body is constantly using its water resources. For different reasons, sometimes fluid loss happens faster.
When you're hot, your body releases water through sweat as a way to cool down and prevent overheating. Sweat a lot, and you'll need to drink a lot. Increase the amount of water you drink when you're hot, and if working outside in the sun, take regular breaks and rest in the shade.
Illness can also cause your body to become dehydrated. If you're sweating out a fever or experiencing diarrhea, you'll lose more water than usual. Drink extra water if experiencing fever, diarrhea, or vomiting. Otherwise, you risk getting dehydrated, which could make you feel even worse than you already do.
The symptoms of mild or moderate dehydration include:
- Dark urine
- Dry mouth or skin
- Excessive thirst
- Feeling dizzy or tired
- Headache or cramping muscles
- Reduced ability to urinate or sweat
For mild dehydration, drink water or a sports drink with electrolytes. Avoid drinking caffeinated beverages as they can make you urinate more often, leading to additional water loss.
Severe dehydration is more dangerous and can cause you to feel confused, experience increased heartbeat, and labored breathing. You may also become irritable or listless and, in the worst cases, severe dehydration can cause you to pass out, become delirious, or go into shock. If you experience symptoms of severe dehydration, call 911.
Yes, you can drink too much water, which can lead to a condition called hyponatremia. This happens when there's too little sodium in your blood. The body needs a certain amount of sodium to function. Excessive fluid intake, vomiting, and diarrhea can all lead to the condition. Although mild cases often cause no symptoms, severe cases cause symptoms that require immediate medical attention, ranging from nausea and vomiting to seizures and coma.
For most people, getting the right amount of fluids each day is easy, although it's common to forget to stay hydrated. This summer, make a point of drinking plenty of water. Carry a water bottle and keep it filled, serve glasses of water during meals, and choose water over other beverages when dining out.
Has it been more than a year since you had a checkup or wellness visit? Find a primary care provider at Reid Health and make an appointment today.