Drink Up!

As a health-conscious individual, you take pride in maintaining your body at an optimal level. You work out, eat healthy low-fat diets, and even take supplements.

But are you overlooking perhaps the most basic of all health-enhancing substances–water?

Water’s pivotal role in life is reflected in the composition of the human body. Accounting for approximately 60 percent of the weight of an average person and nearly two thirds of our complete structure, water’s presence is pervasive throughout our system. Next to oxygen, water is the most essential element in our physiology. We can survive for weeks without food, but only days without water. Water comprises 80 percent of blood, 73 percent of the brain, 73 percent of muscle, and 22 percent of bone. Without ample reserves of this critical fluid many major body processes would be severely hindered.

Water plays an important role in virtually every bodily function. Besides acting as a giant cooling system that regulates body temperature, water also carries oxygen and nutrients to all cells, helps convert food into energy, protects and cushions vital organs and joints, keeps the liver and kidneys functioning properly, helps to metabolize fats, removes and detoxifies waste from our system, and is the basis for all our fluid secretions (saliva, tears, etc.). Astoundingly, this is only a brief synopsis of the mind-boggling multitude of intricate responsibilities of water. No other substance within our body can lay claim to such a wide array of uses. As you can tell, maintaining sufficient water levels is of prime importance, not only from an athletic standpoint, but simply to function well in daily life.

On a daily basis the human body loses up to 100 ounces of water through both urine and perspiration. Even the simple act of exhaling causes us to lose precious amounts of water vapor. Add in the factors of a hot, humid climate and strenuous exercise, and water loss dramatically increases. Diet, in particular, can account for major fluctuations in water needs. Highly-salted foods have a tendency to trigger our thirst mechanism quite rapidly. Since the body must maintain a fragile balance between fluids and salts, thirst tells us to compensate immediately for the increased sodium level. Excessive protein intake also has a similar effect. Those on high-protein bodybuilding or weight-loss programs require extra water to flush out the assorted waste products created by an overabundance of protein. Without replenishing these water reserves in a timely manner, our body quickly dips into a state of dehydration characterized by dizziness, headaches, fatigue, the sensation of extreme hunger, and fuzzy short-term memory. Amazingly, according to the Nationwide Food Consumption surveys conducted in conjunction with the American Dietetic Association, a large portion of the American population has chronic mild dehydration without even knowing it! They ignore the early warning signs and then to quench a monstrous thirst turn to caffeine and sugar-laden soft drinks (which only compound the problem).

Specifically, babies and the elderly must be extremely careful in defending against dehydration. These two groups are particularly susceptible to excessive water depletion. Since the small, delicate body of a baby perspires over a much larger surface area in relation to its fluid volume, dehydration can swiftly set in. This problem is complicated by a young child’s inability to communicate their thirst effectively. In contrast to the body of an infant (which is approximately 80 percent water) those over the age of 65 have a composition closer to 50 percent. As the body ages it naturally begins to dry out, which leads to wrinkled skin, reduced saliva flow, and an assortment of joint-related ailments. Older individuals also face a paradox in that as they age their thirst mechanism becomes less and less sensitive. Therefore, establishing a schedule of proper water consumption throughout the day is of dire necessity. Without such a plan, dehydration will have a profound effect on seniors and children alike.

For the most part, a healthy adult should strive to consume between two and three quarts of water per day. While the vast majority of this liquid volume should be derived from the standard eight glasses of water, a strong emphasis should also be given to eating a sensible amount of fruits and vegetables. On average, these items consist of 70 to 95 percent water and help to augment your daily intake. Make it a point to avoid having thirst tell you it’s time to drink. Remember, feelings of thirst lag behind the body’s actual need for water. By the time you feel thirsty you may already be dehydrated. Devising a schedule in which you regularly sip water throughout the day is, perhaps, the most effective strategy. Keep a bottle of water by your side and get in the habit of periodically taking a drink. Before you know it, it will be second nature.

So the next time that afternoon fatigue kicks in, reach for a glass of nature’s natural refreshment. It’s cheap, calorie-free, and without equals. Don’t forget: garbage in, garbage out. Treat your body well, and it will return the favor.