Fiona McMahon, DPT
The dog days of summer are here, folks! Walking from the subway to your apartment feels akin to walking on the surface of the sun and it’s nearly impossible to avoid sweating through the back of your shirt on your way to work. It’s time to think about your water intake.
At Beyond Basics, you can often hear our therapists ask this question over and over, “are you drinking enough water?” But how much is enough? Can you over do it? And lastly, why is it important for me to be drinking so much water?
Benefits of Hydration
- Body Temperature Regulation: The body needs water to produce sweat to cool your body, without enough water the body cannot cool itself, which can be dangerous especially in hot weather. This is especially important in children and older adults
- Physical Performance: Decreases in athletic performance have been seen with as little as 2% body mass water loss. Ensuring you are hydrated ensures a better workout.
- Brain Power: Even mild dehydration can put you in a bad mood, as well as affecting memory and alertness
- Bowel Function: Not consuming enough water can slow down the movement of stool and lead to painful constipation
- Heart and Blood Pressure: Dehydration decreases the volume of blood in the body. With decreased blood, the heart has to work harder to circulate the smaller volume throughout the body, resulting in increased strain on the heart. This is of particular concern in those with heart conditions.
- Bladder: Drinking enough water can reduce risk of urinary tract infection by keeping bacteria in low concentrations in the urinary tract. It can also reduce general bladder discomfort by reducing the amount of bladder irritants present in the urinary tract.
What should I Drink?
How much and what to drink isn’t always clear. I often get asked, what counts. Does decaf coffee count? Does juice count? My answer in the pelvic health world is no, water is the only thing that counts as water (even sparkling water doesn’t count). My aim is to reduce the amount of bladder irritants present in the bladder, in addition to adding all the other benefits outlined above.
–So How Much Water Do I Really Need?
– The advice for how much water to drink is varied. One common adage is to drink 8- 8 ounce glasses a day. This is a great starting point and doesn’t take into account an individual’s size or how much s/he perspires. We also can’t always rely on our own thirst. In both the elderly and children, the sensation of thirst does not always occur strongly enough or frequently enough to prevent dehydration. The common rule of thumb is to drink half your bodyweight in ounces. So take me, for example, your average 140 pound physical therapist: Half my bodyweight is 70 lbs, so I should drink approximately 70 ounces or 8.75 cups. If I exercise, I should increase my water intake to match the amount of water I lose in sweat. Other reasons to increase water intake include, hot days, history of constipation or if you are breast feeding.
Another little saying I often say to my patients is, “If you are going to pollute, dilute”. What that means is, if you are going to indulge in a little caffeine or alcohol, follow it with an equal volume of water to prevent any dehydrating effects.
Popkin B, D’Anci K, Rosenberg I. Water, hydration and health. Nutr Rev. 2010 Aug; 68(8): 439–458.