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January 5, 2001
Hydrate for Health Drinking enough water can prevent a variety of problems
Jane Dixon

By Christine R. McLaughlin


hat if there was a single way to keep your skin soft, prevent headaches, keep you alert during the afternoon, and even help you lose weight? What if this method was available just about everywhere, for free?

Sound like an infomercial? Sure it does. Yet, truth be told, the cure-all being touted is our old, familiar friend from the faucet: water.

The unsung hero of good health

Despite all of its glory, water is probably one of the most neglected daily nutrients.

A recent study conducted by Yankelovich Partners for The Rockefeller University in New York and the International Bottled Water Association showed that only 34 percent of the 2,818 Americans surveyed actually drink the recommended daily amount of water -- eight 8-ounce servings. Daily water intake can also be calculated based on body weight (see sidebar). People cite a variety of reasons for not drinking enough water: they are too busy, they don't like the taste of water, or they don't feel thirsty.

A recent study showed that only 34 percent of the Americans surveyed actually drink the recommended amount of water -- eight 8-ounce servings per day.

Excuses aside, humans need water not just to survive, but also to prevent a variety of health problems. Our bodies consist of about 70 percent water, and the liquid is necessary for every major bodily function. Water helps regulate temperature, carries nutrients and oxygen to cells, removes waste, and cushions joints.

If we don't take in enough water, our body can become dehydrated -- and dehydration can lead to chronic health problems. Some of the symptoms of dehydration include midday fatigue, dry and itchy skin, headaches, muscle cramps, indigestion, lapses in mental concentration, and constipation.

Guidelines for the Amount of Water Needed

Daily intake

For every pound you weigh, drink half an ounce of water. For a 150-pound individual, 75 ounces a day would be the requirement.

To counteract caffeine

For every ounce of caffeinated beverage, drink an ounce of water to replace it. If your daily intake is 75 ounces of water a day and you drink 10 ounces of coffee, drink a total of 85 ounces of water that day.

After exercise

For every 15 minutes of exercise, drink an extra 4 ounces of water. Once you've exercised an hour or more you've lost sodium too, so be sure to add a sports drink, like Gatorade, to your rehydration regimen.


Your weight in water?

By the time you feel thirsty, it might be too late, some experts say. At that point, you could already be clinically dehydrated.

This could be the reason that so many people are overweight, according to Toni Nichols, a registered dietician and licensed medical nutrition therapist. She explains that our thirst sensation actually lags behind dehydration. By the time we feel thirsty, it's likely that we've already experienced a craving of some sort. Our bodies can't identify the need for water very well, so we often crave salty and sweet food instead.

"If people are well hydrated all of the time, they avoid the confusion of whether they really have a craving for something or whether they just need water," says Nichols.

Also, drinking water helps us lose weight because it can be substituted for caloric drinks and can make people feel fuller. Plus, water helps our metabolism run optimally.

While it may sound contradictory, the more water we drink, the less we retain. So water can be seen as a way to reduce bloating and retention, which will make our clothes fit better.

Hydrate after exercise or caffeine

Drinking enough water during the day also helps us exercise more effectively and keeps us from feeling fatigued afterward. Marvin Adner, M.D., who has been the medical director of the Boston Marathon since 1978, recommends determining how much water you lose during exercise in order to properly hydrate yourself afterward.

Tips to Drink More Water

1. Buy a reusable squeeze bottle for your water.

2. Don't go cold turkey. Start off with half the regular amount of your beverage of choice and half water. Then continue to challenge yourself to drink more and more water.

3. To help with palatability, try adding lemon or lime juice to your water.

4. Put a little bit of water in the bottom of a plastic water bottle and keep it in the freezer overnight. The next morning it will be ice, ready for water to be added.

5. To make drinking water more fun, try placing berries in your ice trays. Once they're frozen, add them to your water.

6. To hydrate after exercise, drink one part juice or sports drink to three parts water.


Before and after you exercise, weigh yourself and see how much weight was lost. "A pound equals a pint [of water]. If you lose a pound during exercise, then you'll need to compensate with two glasses of water," he says.

As with exercise, you will also lose water if you're an avid coffee drinker. You will have to supplement every cup of coffee with water because caffeine is a diuretic, says Nichols. So if your requirement is 75 ounces of water a day, and you drink 12 ounces of coffee, you would need to drink 87 ounces of water that day.

And likewise with soda. Sodas are fine to drink once in a while, but if they're caffeinated, you'll have to drink extra water. Plus, soda has no nutritional value so you take in "empty calories" when you drink it, says Nichols.

As for juices, many of them are a great source of vitamin C. But after 4 ounces of juice, Nichols points out, you generally don't need any more. "Drinking more than that, you might as well be drinking regularly sweetened soda," she explains.

And because of the sugar in both juice and soda, neither should be used as a hydrator after exercise because they won't be absorbed as quickly. Instead Nichols suggests drinking only water, or one part juice and three parts water.

Make it a habit

"Just like the earth is mostly water, so is our body. We have to drink enough of it in order to be fit and make our body last a long time," says Nichols.

So remember to keep a water bottle by your side and drink up! You'll soon see the changes in your health.

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