One of the simplest things you can do to improve your health is to drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. It’s easy to become dehydrated in the summer, especially in extreme heat. Some signs of dehydration include: decreased urine output, dry mouth, dark urine, fatigue, headache, confusion, dizziness. To stay hydrated, most people need between 8-12 cups of water per day. Your water needs depend on your weight, activity level, and how much water you lose through sweat, urine, and any other bodily fluids. A general guide is to drink 0.5-1 oz per pound of body weight.
Benefits of staying hydrated:
- Maintaining fluid balance: About 60% of your body is made up of water. The fluids in your body facilitate many important functions, including circulation, absorption, digestion, transportation of nutrients, regulation of body temperature, and saliva production. Without enough water, your body will not be able to function properly.
- Kidney function: Fluids transport waste products in and out of your cells. The primary waste compound is called blood urea nitrogen, and this toxin passes through your kidneys to be excreted in urine. Your kidneys need a regular supply of water to continuously push this, and other toxins, out of your body.
- Bowel function: When your body is hydrated, things flow smoothly along your gastrointestinal tract, making bowel movements comfortable and regular. If you are dehydrated, the colon must extract water from the stool to keep your body hydrated, resulting in constipation.
- Energizing your muscles: When your muscle cells do not receive enough water, they will not be able to function properly. It is important to drink about 2 cups of water 2 hours before you start exercising, and drink at regular intervals while you are exercising.
- Appetite control: We often mistake the body’s thirst cues for hunger cues, so drinking water regularly can help curb your appetite. Additionally, water is a non-caloric drink and can contribute to weight loss if used as a substitute for higher-calorie beverages. Eating water-rich foods that are healthy and filling, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, broth-based soups, and oatmeal, can also help you trim your calorie intake.
- Skin: Dehydration can make your skin look dry and wrinkles become more prominent; you can improve its appearance by staying hydrated.
For strategies on how to build a habit of drinking more water, look at these MOVE! Hydration tips. If you aren’t a fan of plain water, add some sugar-free flavorings such as:
- Fruit, cucumbers, mint leaves.
- Lemon juice.
- Calorie-free flavoring agent such as Mio or Crystal Light, or powdered fruit packets.
- Unsweetened tea.
- Calorie-free seltzer waters.
For more information on hydration and improving your health, contact your local VA dietitian. Please also remember that the above information may not apply if you have a condition that requires a fluid restriction like Congestive Heart Failure or Dialysis. If you’ve been told by your provider to “limit fluids” you can also contact your local VA dietitian to help come up with a personal hydration program.
Melanya Souza, RD, LDN, is a Registered Dietitian at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center in Gainesville, Florida, and primarily works in outpatient nutrition, facilitating Healthy Teaching Kitchen cooking classes and serving as National Co-Lead for the Healthy Teaching Kitchen program. She specializes in providing hands-on nutrition education in a variety of programs at her facility to improve Veteran’s self-efficacy in adopting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. In her leisure time Melanya enjoys traveling, costuming, outdoor activities and competing in combative sports tournaments.