Monday Medical: Hydrate for health
As adults, our bodies are about 60 percent water, and the cells in our body need water to do their daily tasks, from processing food to moving out waste.
So it stands to reason that, when we’re dehydrated, our health suffers.
“Drinking an adequate amount of fluid helps with cellular metabolism,” said Pam Wooster, clinical dietitian and certified diabetes educator. “It helps prevent constipation, keeps our skin supple — there are many different roles that hydration plays.”
That’s especially important during summer, when you may find your body needs more fluids than usual.
“If we’re exercising and sweating, or at a higher altitude, or in an environment where temperatures are hotter, we tend to lose a little more fluid through our skin,” Wooster said. “We want to replace that fluid.”
Following are Wooster’s tips for staying hydrated.
- Aim for eight to 10 glasses of fluid per day, at least half of them from water.
- Drink an eight-ounce glass of water upon waking, then drink a glass of water with every meal and when taking supplements.
- Have water available — at your bedside, in your purse, on a long walk — so you can drink as you’re thirsty.
- When drinking alcohol, match each glass of wine or beer with a large glass of water.
- Drink a glass or two of water before exercising, and drink again during or after exercise.
- Monitor your weight before and after exercising. If it stays the same, you’ve maintained your hydration. If it drops, you likely fell behind in your fluid intake. “When you’re getting dehydrated during exercise, your level of performance will decrease more quickly than if you’re maintaining your hydration,” Wooster said.
- Beware of over-hydrating, in which so much water is consumed that sodium levels drop. This concern is most prevalent when exercising for longer periods of time; for those times, use sports drinks with electrolytes and carbohydrates.
- Choose water. Juices, milk, soups and sports drinks are other options to consider with hydration, as are high-moisture fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon and cucumber.
If dehydration does strike, be aware of signs and symptoms. For mild to moderate dehydration, those include headache, muscle cramps and dark urine. Symptoms of more severe dehydration may include dizziness, fainting, lack of energy, dry skin, very dark urine or an inability to pass urine, elevated heart rate, increased breathing, and feeling confused or irritable.
Infants, children and the elderly may need help monitoring their hydration. Signs of dehydration in infants and children may include dry lips, pasty skin and acting cranky or upset. Children may complain of a headache, while infants may cry without tears and not wet diapers as they normally do.
“Children have a less-heightened awareness that, ‘I feel this way, I need to drink,’” Wooster said. “Parents should make that leap for them.”
The elderly are also more at risk of dehydration.
“As we get older, we lose a sense of thirst, so we need to be more aware of our fluid needs,” Wooster said.
When you’re experiencing mild or moderate dehydration, the solution is easy: Grab a glass of water and drink.
“Most times, after people drink a glass or two of water, they start feeling better, and their headache and other symptoms subside,” Wooster said.
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