Monday, June 2, 2014

How much water do I need?

Someone started a discussion today that I thought would make a great blog discussion as we head into the warmer months:

How much water do I need to drink each day?

It's a tough question.  We hear all the time about how we need to eat right, and everyone learns to "drink 8 glasses a day".  Athletes and outdoor workers are always being warned about dehydration, but what about us normal folk?

The US RDA for water is 3.6 liters for the typical adult.  For kids, it ranges anywhere from 2.9 (4-8 year olds) to 3.4 liters (9-13 year olds).  (These numbers include  about a liter of water from the food you eat.)  Of course, those who are more active (athletes, including dancers, sports enthusiasts, and martial artists) should be getting more when they're exercising, just to replenish what you lose in sweat, and anyone working in the summer heat will need more for the same reason (even if you're doing yard work).

Thing is, it ain't easy to drink all that water!  Well, never fear, you actually don't have to DRINK it all and drinking what you do need is actually very easy.

Everything you eat is made up of lots of water and that water counts toward the 3.6 liters US RDA.  An average sized apple contains as much as 4 ounces; pasta and actually add water to prep them for eating; add tomato and lettuce to that sandwich for an extra ounce or two.  In other words, almost a whole liter of the water we need each day comes from the very foods we eat during the day.  That's why we can usually get by with closer to 2 liters that we actually drink (about 67 ounces).  Although the "drink 8 glasses of water a day" saying has been largely derided and debunked, it's actually still about right as a "glass" is actually an 8 ounce glass and that's 64 ounces.

"But I don't like water; it has no flavor!"  Ok, ok - I get it.  A lot of people want flavor in everything they consume.  So...add flavor.  Anything you drink counts toward the 2 liters you drink; coffee, tea, juice, milk, even soup broth.  Although I hate to admit it, even soda pop, KoolAid, and beer count (although you need to watch your intake there for obvious reasons).  Coffee drinkers will get 8-16 ounces with their morning hit, and I know I get every bit of 16 ounces when I drink a tall cup of OJ in the morning.

The key to getting the water you need is to take a bad habit we already have with food and make it a good habit with water.  I'm talking about "mindless drinking".  Let's face it - we like to nibble while we watch TV or engage in other couch sports.  Do the same with what you drink by always having a cup of water nearby.  I recommend water bottles and straw cups for those of you on the go.

I'm a techie so my work is fairly sedentary, involving long hours of sitting in front of a computer.  There is always a 24-32 ounce cup of ice water sitting next to me and I refill it at least twice in any given day, sometimes three or four times.  If I leave the house to run errand, I fill up a 24 ounce straw-cup with ice water and take it along with me.  At night, when I go to bed, I take a 24 ounce cup of water to keep on the nightstand so I can take a few drinks during the night when I wake up.  And I pretty much always start my day with 8 ounces of water from the get-go, just to replenish all the water lost while I was asleep.

"Wait; I get that I lose water when I exercise, but how do I lose water when I'm asleep; I'm not doing anything!"  Actually, you ARE doing something when you sleep - you are breathing and sweating.  You lose as much as half a liter (16 ounces) of water just laying there asleep.  (BTW, that's almost a pound in weight.)  This is to say nothing of how much you'll lose when you make that first visit to the bathroom in the morning.

Some quick and easy to follow tips for getting in enough water each day....

  1. Sip don't gulp; several sips equal a single gulp but it's hardly noticeable.
  2. Keep a filled glass next to you and sip throughout the day; refill regularly!
  3. Keep a glass by the bedstand and get in the habit of taking a drink when you awaken during the night.
  4. Keep a filled glass by you for sipping while watching TV.
  5. Take a filled glass with you when you're running errands.
  6. Have a filled glass around when you're doing other stuff - taking a bath, reading in your favorite hammock, giving a speech....
  7. Use ice water (actually helps, especially if I'm feeling hot, even though you want to drink warm fluids when you want to cool down).
  8. Count ALL fluids you drink - coffee, tea, fruit juice, milk, etc. Even soup broth counts.
  9. Accept that your daily intake will vary; some days you may be at 2.5-3 liters while others may be 1.5.
I also recommend using a water filter (on the fridge or the kind you attach to the kitchen sink) and a few reusable water bottles to keep costs down.  A lot of folks really like their bottled water but more oft than not, the inexpensive bottled water is just water that has been further filtered from the tap (look at the label).  Tap water is usually just fine to drink, but it actually has a flavor and smell all its own; by filtering that out, you may find you like your water better.  (Do the same with your ice cubes, too.)

Incidentally, did you know you can actually drink too much water?  It's even more difficult than drinking enough, but it is possible to drink so much water that you suffer water intoxication and it can  kill.  Drinking too much water can result in hyponatremia (too low blood sodium concentration) and it can raise blood pressure.  The kidneys eliminate excess water but if you get too much too fast, they just can't keep up and the blood becomes waterlogged.  This increases blood pressure (add fluid to a closed system) and tends to draw out water soluble substances, especially salt.  Thankfully, the kidneys are pretty good at eliminating water and there's more to water intoxication than just drinking a bunch of water.

The health benefits of drinking more fluids are many; even more so when that fluid is just water.  Water helps with appetite, cell elasticity and health (skin and muscles), kidney health, regularity, and general elimination of bodily waste products.  It's good stuff and many of us need more.  Hopefully this article will help you get the water you need each day.  Happy drinking!

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