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Healthy Water Habits: 9 Steps to Hydration

Dr. B is a naturopathic doctor in Ontario, Canada. He is the author of "Rules of Health," a comprehensive guide on healthy living.

Water—The Miracle Beverage

Did you know that you could get rid of your headaches by drinking a couple of glasses of water?

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It may not seem like it, but we are essentially walking bags of water. Over 60% of your body is composed of water with some organs containing as much as 80% water.

Water is used within the body for many processes, and even a small drop in hydration levels can be noticeable. When you are dehydrated, you can feel your brain is not as sharp as usual. You may get headaches frequently, your energy levels are not what they should be, and you get constipated more easily.

According to a study by the CDC, 43% of adults drink less than four cups of water a day; we are experiencing a dehydration epidemic. It would only seem logical that one of the biggest influences you can have over our health is to pay attention to our hydration level. Follow the instructions below to keep your water needs in check.

Water Is Life and Life Is Water

Just as proper breathing is essential to health, drinking enough pure water is paramount to your well-being, so try to make it a priority in your life. There are two main indicators for adequate water consumption: thirst, and the color of your urine. Your body will signal that you are getting dehydrated by the sensation of thirst. Don’t ignore this sensation, drink a glass of H2O.

If your urine is transparent to light straw yellow in color most of the time, then you are drinking enough water. If it is transparent all the time, then you are probably drinking more water than you need. That is nothing to worry about in most cases, as healthy kidneys can efficiently remove excess water and preserve blood electrolyte and mineral balance. That does not mean you can go overboard and drink excessive amounts of water as there is such a thing as water intoxication which can be lethal.

Below, we will consider further guidelines on the ideal amounts of water consumption. On the other end of the spectrum, if your urine is frequently darker yellow to orange in color, you may be dehydrated. It is better to be well hydrated than dehydrated any day of the week especially if you are someone who struggles with weight issues. Hydration is the first key to successful weight management.

Rule Out Underlying Medical Issues

A few notes on some important medical issues that need to be dealt with immediately. If you are thirsty all the time outside of physical exertion or hot climate, which is forcing you to drink lots of water and urinate constantly, then you may have a medical issue—get it checked out.

Certain foods and medications can change your urine color temporarily, however, if your urine color stays darker in spite of drinking adequate water or it suddenly changes color into the red or brown hues and stays that way consistently, then get it checked out.

Learn to Distinguish Between Thirst and Hunger

The area in your brain that controls thirst and hunger are close together, and we can unknowingly confuse one sensation for the other. Sometimes, thirst can masquerade as hunger. The next time you get the urge to grab that bag of potato chips, you may actually be in need of a glass of water. If you want to figure out if your thirst and hunger sensations match up, do the following:

  • When you feel hungry or have the need to snack, drink a large glass of water. If the sensation does not go away or stops initially, but then returns within 10-20 minutes, then it is hunger and not thirst. However, if the sensation stops and does not return, then it is thirst, and you had your thirst sensation confused for hunger.

Not All Water Is Equal

The best type of water is mineral enriched, such as purified spring water or well water. The next best is filtered tap water (water filtration systems employing activated carbon filter or reverse osmosis are good choices.) Avoid drinking distilled water. The research on its long-term health benefits is still controversial and you may want to err on the side of caution.

Tap water is also acceptable as long as the water is treated properly by the municipality you live at and is biologically safe to consume. If you are drinking tap water, make sure to run the cold water for a minute first thing in the morning to reduce lead contamination from solder joints in the pipes. If your tap water is chlorinated and you are not using any kind of chlorine filter such as an activated carbon filter, then simply fill cool water in glass jugs and let it sit overnight to let the chlorine evaporate as much as possible.

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Watch the Caffeine

Caffeinated beverages and soft drinks do not count completely towards your water requirements. They make us urinate more leading to a negative water balance. Although, your body does adapt to caffeine and with time learns to preserve water. If you are a coffee or tea drinker, keep in mind that for every cup of regular coffee or two cups of black tea, drinking a cup of water will help preserve water balance. Same goes for caffeinated soft drinks, some of which also have added salt leading to further dehydration.

Drink green tea instead. Green tea is lower in caffeine and has more health benefits. Furthermore, limit your juice consumption to two cups a day, since juice is high in fructose, an excess of which is known to accumulate in the liver as fat. Most store juice brands also have added artificial colors and flavors, which have their own adverse health effects. Go for fresh juice instead from a juice bar, or make the juice yourself at home.

Store Water Correctly

It's best to store water in a glass container. Another good choice is stainless steel. Avoid storing any liquids you consume in plastic bottles. If drinking from plastic bottles, make sure they are not left out in a hot car or in the freezer. Extreme temperatures will leach hormone-disrupting chemicals not friendly to our bodies. A better option for plastic bottles and containers may be the BPA-free versions, however, the long-term health effects of BPA-free plastic is unknown, so use it with caution.

Tips for Showering

Hot, chlorinated water can harm the skin and lungs through long-term exposure. The hotter the water, the greater the damage. Unless you invest in a shower filter that removes the chlorine, keep hot water showers short, under 10 min. You are not trying to poach yourself.

Furthermore, keep the bathroom exhaust fan on while you take a shower to minimize breathing in the chlorine and other volatile organic compounds released from the steam. A better option would be to shower with warm or lukewarm water, just hot enough for you to feel the heat.

Daily Requirements

In general, most people require between 8 to 12 (250 ml) cups of water daily to keep well hydrated and to keep their metabolism strong. Requirements will change with the level of physical activity, sweating, breathing, urination, metabolism, and many other biological factors.

In general, men need more water than women. Men need on average 2.5 liters per day whereas women need to consume 2 liters of water per day. Pregnant and lactating women need to consume as much water as men. As we learned earlier, let your thirst and the color of your urine be a guide to how much water you need and you will be well hydrated.

The Health Benefits of Drinking Water

If you follow the suggestion here, then you will be adequately hydrated throughout the day and experience some or all of the following health benefits:

  • Your digestion will improve.
  • You will lose excess weight.
  • Your skin will feel more supple and resilient.
  • You will sleep better.
  • Your mind will be sharp and focused.
  • You will feel energized throughout your day.

When to Drink Water

When you wake up in the morning before brushing your teeth, drink 2-3 (250 ml) cups of room temperature water. Have your breakfast after half an hour of consumption. Following these instructions will give you enough time to get ready for your day. Also, half an hour before lunch and dinner, drink one-two cups of water.

If you are constipated or have a weak digestion, squeeze half a lemon or lime into a cup of lukewarm water and drink that a couple of times in the day, preferably 15-20 minutes before your main meals of the day. If you notice teeth sensitivity when drinking lemon/lime water, then drink through a straw to protect your teeth.

Don’t drink any water with food and for one hour after food. That includes other drinks as well. Drinking fluids with food will dilute your digestive enzymes and impair your digestion. You may sip small amounts of water with your meals especially if consuming dry foods.

By following these lifestyle recommendations, my hope is for you to get you in touch with your body's water requirements in a safe and effective way. If you are dehydrated like most people are, start by increasing your water intake slowly and make a conscious effort to choose water over other beverages. With time, you will notice the many health benefits that being hydrated offers. Make H2O your friend and watch the magic happen.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2017 Behzad Azargoshasb

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