You may have heard that drinking water is better than drinking soda (I hope!). More than likely you have heard the “rule” of drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day more than once. (That rule has since changed, but I’ll get to that later.) The paradox many of us suffer from is knowing we have to drink water and honor proper hydration, but failing to follow through. How do we “walk the walk”, or in this case, “drink the drink” and why should we?
I believe the “why” behind this edict of health and wellness is all we really need to finally motivate and commit to drinking all the water our bodies need.
How Much Really?
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2009-2012 reported that adults in the US drink an average of 35 ounces of plain water a day. (1) Although there are no official guidance numbers from the FDA on how much water we should drink in a day, experts generally agree that drinking the number of ounces of water that equates to half of your body weight (in pounds) will provide optimal hydration.
In other words, if you weight 150 pounds, you should drink at least 75 ounces of water a day. If you are active and especially if you sweat a lot, your body would appreciate a bit more than that. One trick to ensure proper hydration after a workout is to weigh yourself before and after an intense sporting event where you know you’ll be sweating. For every pound of bodyweight lost, drink 16 oz of water.
5 Benefits of Proper Hydration
I’m sure I don’t have to start with the “water is the basis of life” argument but I’m going to anyway. Our bodies are comprised largely of water–on average, 60% of the human body is made of water with values ranging from 45-75% and decreasing with age and with weight, i.e. if you’re overweight.
Without adequate water your metabolism will not function optimally. It slows down and your muscles stop working all their magic. On the flip side, studies have demonstrated that drinking water to your body’s needs will actually speed up your metabolism by 30%.(2) It’s called water-induced thermogenesis. Without getting too technical, researchers believe this increase in metabolism is due to hydration expanding of cell volume.(3)
And on that note, drinking water before a meal has been shown to reduce the amount of calories consumed in the meal and consequently aid in weight loss, often by up to 40%. (4) Furthermore, the presence of enough water aids in the process of lipolysis, i.e., the loss of fat. Proper hydration not only prevents you from eating more than you should at a meal, but initiates the fat-burning process as well.
Immune System Success
The lymphatic system is the network of vessels and fluids that transport invading toxins and waste materials from the blood. White blood cells, or lymphocytes, are born here and travel through lymphatics, or arterial-like tubes, to where they are needed to fight infection. This vital system is comprised 96% of water. Without enough water in the system, lymph drainage will slow or even stagnate, keeping toxins in your system, potentially causing or prolonging illness.
Additionally, both rat and human studies have indicated that water intake can mediate the physiological stress response by regulating small intestine mucosal immunity.(5)
Ever experience brain fog or forgetfulness and realize that you’re also quite thirsty? It’s not your imagination. Research indicates that “decrements in physical, visuomotor, psychomotor, and cognitive performance can occur when 2% or more of body weight is lost due to water restriction, heat, and/or physical exertion.”(6)
Granted, that’s a great deal of water to lose (2.5lbs if you weight 125lbs)! But if you are chronically dehydrated, you could be functioning in a sub-par mental state much of the time. Proper hydration could indeed improve cognitive functioning.
Am I Dehydrated?
Most people believe they are getting enough water by drinking other liquids and drinks throughout their day, if not simply drinking plain water. There are signs, however, that may indicate that you are indeed somewhat or even very dehydrated.
One group of researchers determined that both noting even a slight sensation of thirst along with urinating fewer than 6 times in a 24 hour period was wholly indicative of suboptimal hydration status among healthy, young adults. (7)
Aside from that, other markers of dehydration can be more notable. Do note many conditions might be responsible for specific symptoms listed below, but taken together, may point to the need for more H20:
- Dark colored urine
- Brain fog
- Dry skin
How to Drink More Water
Seems like it would be simple enough to just….drink more water! Changing our habits and routines can take some doing. Here are some ways to drink more water and restore optimal hydration.
- Buy a water bottle. Keep it with you wherever you go. If it’s a 20 oz water bottle and you weight 160 pounds you know you need to drink at least four bottle-fulls a day to get what you need.
- Make it delicious. If you are a soda drinker and have a hard time making the switch, try flavored but unsweetened soda water while you make a transition to still water. You can also infuse your water with fresh fruit to make it tasty. But caffeinated beverages are diuretics (ie, flush water out of your system) and don’t technically count towards your water count for the day, so focus on transitioning towards non-caffeinated beverages like herbal tea, if not water. You can also get a water filter if you don’t like the taste of tap water.
- Set a timer every hour to urge you to drink one 8 oz glass of water. If you work all day this will also remind you to move more. Bonus!
- Track it. Some folks respond to journaling or digital trackers, many of which are set up for water reminders. Use ’em if you got ’em!
- Eat it! Plenty of fruits and vegetables are chock full of H20 (hello watermelon!) and can certainly help bring up your hydration status as well as drinking!
Ultimately, adding in a new healthy habit successfully will not only make your body feel better but can provide you with the confidence that you can do even more. Drinking more water and adopting proper hydration is one of the easiest, yet most impactful ways to improve your wellness. Give it a try and see what changes you notice!
6. Ann C. Grandjean & Nicole R. Grandjean (2007) Dehydration and Cognitive Performance, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 26:sup5, 549S-554S, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2007.10719657
7. Matthew A. Tucker, Aaron R. Caldwell & Matthew S. Ganio (2020) Adequacy of Daily Fluid Intake Volume Can Be Identified From Urinary Frequency and Perceived Thirst in Healthy Adults, Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 39:3, 235-242, DOI: 10.1080/07315724.2019.1639566