“Let’s drink to our health” the saying goes. As we welcome this new year with greater hope and more resolve than ever, make your intent to drink enough water every day to prevent underlying dehydration. It’s one smart, but simple approach to improving and insuring your health. Water is a pillar of health and a most important part of practicing good nutrition, and yet we may unintentionally forget to drink enough.
How much water does a healthy adult need? The Institute of Medicine recommends approximately 15.5 cups (124 ounces) for men and 11.5 cups (92 ounces) for women. Multiple factors dictate the best amount for each person including age, weight, health, physical activity, and climate.
Most beverages except for alcoholic beverages are water based and count toward our fluid intake. On average about 80 percent of water comes from beverages with approximately 20 percent from fruits and vegetables. If you are trying to increase your fluid intake, count fruits and vegetables as a healthy bonus.
You are getting enough water if…
- Your urine is colorless or light yellow.
- You rarely feel thirsty.
Adults are approximately 60 percent water and in our later years we tend to “dry out” a bit dropping to 45% water. Aging tissues are unable to hydrate as easily. We lose muscle mass which is about 75% to 80% water. Water carries nutrients, supports blood volume and a normal temperature, keeps us lubricated, and even keeps us from feeling tired. We can survive for a while without food, but not long without water.
As we age our sense of thirst diminishes as cells in the hypothalamus, the location of the brain’s thirst center, decrease. This diminished capacity keeps us from getting the message to drink because we don’t feel thirsty. The kidneys also don’t operate as efficiently and are less able to concentrate urine effectively. Our logic also may work against us as we may tell ourselves to limit our fluid intake in attempt to prevent urinary incontinence. In the worst case we may be physically unable to get water for ourselves. It’s possible we can overcome some of this aging decline by training ourselves to drink.
Water at any age is important.
COVID-19: With COVID-19 upon us, being hydrated is a defense against having a serious outcome. Being depleted prior to infection prevents body cells and tissues from responding adequately to fight this challenging infection that overwhelms body systems. Being hydrated before, during and after a COVID infection is a potential option for a better outcome.
Falls and Low Blood Pressure: You might not suspect that hydration (along with medication, infection, pain, and muscle weakness) is a big factor contributing to falls among people over the age of 65 years. Dehydration can lead to dizziness from low blood pressure. If you’ve ever tried to stand up quickly and have felt dizzy or have passed out (known as orthostatic hypertension), this may be caused by being dehydrated. Taking diuretic medications can deplete fluid reserves. Check with your doctor if dizziness happens frequently.
Joint Pain: It’s estimated that 70-80% of joint cartilage consists of water. Joints are lubricated by synovial fluid located between them that provides a cushion to keep bones from contacting each other. While there are many reasons for joint pain, better hydration may ease symptoms.
Constipation: Staying hydrated helps relieve constipation as there is enough water to help keep stool soft.
Exercise: Athletes know that hydration is important to maintain energy and prevent cramping. Without adequate hydration athletic performance decreases as muscles struggle to function optimally. Have a hydration plan including drinking fluids before exercise as well as after.
Diabetes: If you have diabetes, it is prudent to pay attention to hydration. With illness, blood glucose can rise beyond what is normal for you. Staying hydrated can help prevent serious complications related to high blood glucose.
Leg Cramps: If you have night leg cramps, it may mean you are dehydrated. Discuss the condition with your medical provider to rule out another cause.
Kidneys: Your kidneys love water. Hydration may prevent urinary tract infections, kidney stones and gout.
Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can escalate dehydration. Seek medical care in severe situations as this can affect electrolyte balance. Sucking on ice chips may help if it’s hard to stop vomiting. Infants and children need medical attention quickly.
Plump Skin: While research has not confirmed this, hydration may help plump skin like a topical moisturizer.
The reasons to focus on hydration are many. Examine your daily habits and routines and make a plan to increase your daily fluid intake.
Fruit Juice Spritzer: Fill a 12-ounce glass half full of ice cubes. Add 4 ounces of cold orange juice or grapefruit juice. Top with cold diet ginger ale or other citrus flavored diet soda. Calories: 80
Iced Tea: Consider brewing iced tea even if it is winter. Flavor water with lemon, lime, or orange wedges for a more refreshing change. Stop telling yourself you don’t like water!
Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator
Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.
On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.