Much of the country has been experiencing record high temperatures over the last few weeks. In St. Louis, we usually start feeling the heat in June, but this year we’ve had over a week on end at temps over 100 degrees! These high temperatures can really take a toll on our bodies. We are naturally equipped to cool ourselves through sweating, but excess fluid losses through exercise or being out in the extreme heat can have a major effect on our hydration and overall health.
Here’s a glimpse at why adequate hydration is so important for various organs in the body:
Cells: The water in our body transports nutrients to the cells to be used for energy.
Kidneys: Water is essential for kidneys to be able to do their job—filtering waste products, toxins and excess nutrients from the body. A well-hydrated person’s kidneys filter approximately 190 quarts of water each day!
Skin: Good hydration helps preserve skin’s elasticity, softness and color.
Temperature: Water makes it possible for our body to regulate its temperature through sweating. As we sweat, heat dissipates from our body to cool us down. If that water is not replaced, our body can overheat.
Brain: Mild dehydration—as little as 1 to 2% loss in body weight from fluid—can impair your ability to concentrate. More than this can affect your brain’s processing abilities and can impair short-term memory.
Heart: Proper hydration helps maintain a normal heart rate and blood pressure.
Digestive Tract: Water is present almost everywhere in your digestive tract—from the saliva in your mouth to your intestines—and helps dissolve nutrients so that they can be absorbed and utilized by your cells.
Muscles and Joints: Water helps cushion joints and helps keep muscles working properly. Approximately 70 to 75% of your muscle is made up of water!
As you can probably tell, adequate hydration is extremely important for the normal function of your body. Although water is ideal, all fluids count to keep you hydrated! The Institute of Medicine recommends a total of 11.5 cups of total fluid per day for women and 16 cups for men. These goals include all fluid that comes from beverages (even caffeinated ones) and foods, like soups, fruits and vegetables. On average, about 20% of our fluid intake comes from the foods we eat; therefore it’s a good goal to aim for 80% of your fluid needs from water and other beverages. Not so big on water? Flavored beverages and tea are great alternatives. Try flavored waters, powdered drink mixes or adding fresh fruit to water. Make sure to check the calories and carbohydrates on flavored beverages or mixers and use caution in order to avoid taking in too much caffeine.
Drink plenty of fluids before, during and after exercise or sweating. Plan on 14 to 20 ounces of fluid about 2 hours prior to exercising. During exercise, rehydrate every 15 to 20 minutes. After exercising or sweating, drink about 2 cups of additional fluids for every pound of body weight lost through sweating.
Look for signs of dehydration as clues that you might not be taking in enough fluids. Mild dehydration (loss of fluids equaling 2% body weight) is characterized by thirst, loss of appetite, dry skin, skin flushing, dark-colored urine, dry mouth and fatigue. If the dehydration is allowed to continue to a point in which your body has lost 5% its body weight in fluid, you may experience increased heart rate and respiration, decreased sweating and urination, increased body temperature, muscle cramps, extreme fatigue, headaches, nausea and tingling of the limbs. If you experience any signs of dehydration, return to a cool place and rehydrate with water. After sweating, your body has also lost electrolytes–mainly sodium and potassium. Electrolytes are best replenished during mild dehydration with beverages such as Gatorade or Pedialyte. Make sure to rehydrate and replenish slowly, by sipping water or another beverage. If symptoms continue or worsen, contact your Healthcare Provider immediately or seek emergency assistance.
Source: Hydration Matters; The Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness
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