Staying Healthy & Hydrated
Water plays an essential role in self-care. To keep physically healthy and well, we must maintain proper hydration and there’s nothing better than water for keeping our bodies hydrated. Water also has positive effects on our mental health and well-being, which are starting to become more widely recognised.
Water and our bodies
Did you know that water is the largest constituent of the human body and that our total body weight is, on average, around 60% water?
I say on average because it varies from organ to organ, between childhood and older adulthood, and between men and women – among other factors.
Our blood and water are about 83% water. Muscles and the brain are 75% water and our skin is 72% water.
It is therefore essential to keep our bodies hydrated to help us grow and flourish. When we drink fluids, they are distributed throughout our entire bodily system. Water travels through our veins to supply nutrients and oxygen to vital organs, keeping the heart pumping and brain working. It’s crucial for controlling body temperature, aiding metabolism and movement, and removing toxins and wastes.
While our bodies can survive weeks without eating, humans can typically only last around three days without water.
Dehydration affects body and mind
Dehydration is a common issue that affects us mentally as well as physically. Symptoms of dehydration include dry mouth and lips, thirst, fatigue, headache, dizziness, less frequent urination, dark, strong-smelling urine, and constipation.
Dry and itchy skin is common as are muscle cramps and aching joints. It can also cause confusion, mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks, and stress palpitations.
Severe dehydration is serious, especially in older adults. The risks of severe dehydration are many, particularly during hot weather, with exposure to the sun, while exercising, or in combination with other health conditions, such as diabetes and kidney disease.
Dehydration leads to an increased risk of infection, especially urinary tract infections and kidney stones. It is linked to heatstroke, drops in blood pressure, elevated heart rate, seizures, fainting, falls, and fractures which can lead to hospitalisation.
Even more important as we age
The volume of water within the body decreases as we age – up to 15% between the ages of 20 and 80. Our bodies don’t retain moisture as well, the skin becomes dull, wrinkles appear and there is a reduction in elasticity. As our kidneys age, this increases our vulnerability of becoming dehydrated.
For women going through menopause, there are added issues. Because estrogen makes it easier for tissue to retain moisture, when estrogen levels drop, so does water content. Reduced hydration makes it harder to control body temperature, making hot flushes worse. Night sweats further deplete the body of water, creating a vicious circle. Dehydration can also add to brain fog.
Let’s talk about water and wee
How many people do you know who regularly decline drinks because of fear of incontinence and having to “keep trotting to the loo”? The thing is, peeing is good for you. It’s nature’s way of flushing out bodily toxins.
An interesting little factoid: the older we get, the less thirsty we feel because our thirst centre is in the hypothalamus, which becomes less active as we age and doesn’t always send out the signal to drink.
So, the colour of our pee is a very important indicator of hydration. If it’s clear and odourless, you know you’re properly hydrated, if it’s dark yellow or brown, you need to get some water down you.
Healthy ways to hydrate
Drinking water is, without a doubt, the best way to hydrate your body. How much do you need? Again, that depends on the individual, what activity they are engaged in, and the external environment.
As a guide, the NHS Eatwell Guide recommends we drink at least 6 to 8 glasses – 1.5 to 2.5 litres – of fluids each day.
Water from the tap is recommended because it is healthy, cheap, and contains no calories (thinking waistline here) or sugar that damages diets and teeth. Still and sparkling mineral water is OK, with or without ice and a slice of lemon or lime. If you don’t like plain water, try adding some no-added-sugar squash for flavour.
Milk, plain tea, fruit tea, and coffee are all given the thumbs up, as long they’re taken without added sugar. Watch out for the caffeine, it’s OK in moderation, but it is a diuretic which increases the body’s production of urine.
Water-rich foods like berries, oranges, tomatoes, and cucumbers all help to hydrate your body, too.
Drinks to avoid
A word of warning: fizzy drinks, squashes, and fruit juice drinks can contain lots of added sugar and very few nutrients, so it’s best to avoid these. Also watch out for flavoured waters – many of these contain a surprising amount of sugar. As they say – always read the label.
Sports drinks can aid rehydration during high-level endurance sport where you need an energy boost, but they are high in sugar and calories. If you’re just doing regular exercise, it’s better to stick to water.
Oh yes, alcohol. Surprise, surprise – you won’t find that on the list of recommended drinks for keeping hydrated. Quite the opposite.
Top tips for drinking more water
Keeping your body hydrated will help your body to function well from the inside out. Drinking water, even when you are not thirsty, needs to be the rule, not the exception.
Here are my top tips to make it easier to pay attention to your water intake and keep on track for your eight glasses of water a day:
- Keep a refillable bottle of water with you when out and about.
- Place your water bottle on your desk or side table
- Choose water as your drink with meals
- Use a mobile app or set a reminder to drink water more regularly
Technology can assist us in different ways. For example, Refill App is the UK’s leading ‘app for tap’ listing nearby places where you can refill your water bottle for free. The listings include shops, businesses, public water fountains and transport hubs.
Did you know … establishments that sell alcohol are legally obliged to have free tap water available.
Plus, an added bonus of drinking more tap water is a corresponding reduction in waste plastic bottles. So you can take good care of the environment at the same time as taking good care of yourself.
Blue spaces and water wellbeing
We’re all familiar with the term ‘green space’ and the benefits of spending time in gardens, parks, woods, and nature are well documented, understood, and taken advantage of. But there’s a growing water wellbeing movement and more research into the value of spending time in blue spaces for our physical and mental health.
Blue spaces include the sea, coastline, rivers, lakes, canals, waterfalls. Even fountains, lidos, and swimming pools.
Exeter University researchers suggest there are three ways aquatic environments benefit health, wellbeing, and happiness. Firstly, these areas tend to naturally have less polluted air and more access to beneficial sunlight. Secondly, people who live by water tend to be more physically active – out of the water as well as in it. Finally, water helps to increase positive mood and reduce stress more than green spaces.
The Canals and River Trust has also looked into the effects of water wellbeing and found higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness and lower levels of anxiety the longer people spent visiting and using its waterways.
A 2017 study by Swim England found swimming has a positive impact on a range of physical and mental health conditions. It even found evidence that swimmers live longer.
Enjoy water at home
If you can’t get to the seaside for a paddle or don’t have a river walk nearby, you can still get out and breathe in the air following a downpour. Rain clears away dust and other particles, improving air quality. When it hits the warm, dry ground, it sets off a chain reaction with micro-organisms resulting in that wonderful, fresh, earthy smell called petrichor.
Alternatively, immerse yourself in water indoors with a relaxing bath or refreshing shower. Remembering to massage in a good body lotion or moisturiser, such as our Whipped Shea Butter, when you’ve dried off.
Drops of wisdom
There you have it. Water is one of the best and easiest things you can take advantage of to benefit your overall health. So, stay hydrated and keep your body and mind happy and healthy!