In fact, feeling foggy, cranky, or hungry can be the first signs of your body’s cries for the most basic human must-have. Feeling thirsty? Then you already need water more than you think.
Few habits are so simple, yet offer more direct benefits to our overall wellness than taking care to keep our bodies hydrated. Though for so many of us, the question of whether we’re getting enough water isn’t even a blip on the busy-ness of our radar screens. In fact, according to the Mayo Clinic, about 50% of the population is dehydrated at any given time. That probably applies to you—and me.
Mild dehydration can grow into severe dehydration—and all its consequences—very quickly. Yet these are also problems that can be easily prevented by establishing a habit of getting enough water, consistently.
Drinking water doesn’t have to be a difficult chore, either. But let’s set our spring renewal on a healthful path by taking a closer look at what this precious liquid does for our bodies.
Water makes up from around 50% to over 75% of our total body mass. Every cell of the body contains water. It is the main component of the fluids that flow between cells, too, cooling, cushioning, lubricating, and delivering fuel to those hard-working systems.
Water is a part of every function our bodies perform, from moving nutrients, to contracting muscles, to processing thoughts and ideas, to removing waste. When the body doesn’t have enough water, these operations slow. But not everyone experiences thirst—the sensation that tells us to get a drink—as a first signal that water levels are low. In fact, as with hunger cues, we busy people have learned to just ignore our thirst. Studies have also produced evidence that our sense of thirst dulls with age.
Besides thirst, many other signs can point to the beginnings of dehydration:
- headache, or mildly fuzzy thinking
- low-level joint and muscle aches
- reduced urine output
- unexpected crankiness or irritability
If dehydration isn’t corrected when it’s still mild, or if not getting enough water is a chronic pattern, symptoms may crank up as well and may include severe headache, lack of energy, constipation, dull skin, and heightened cravings.
At its most serious, dehydration is an emergency situation. A person who has hot skin but doesn’t perspire, has a rapid heartbeat, shows pronounced confusion or slowed reactions, faints, has dark-colored or strong-smelling urine, or doesn’t produce urine at all is in a dangerous state—and dehydration is frequently a factor. That’s why giving a patient intravenous fluids is so often among the very first treatments administered by EMTs.
I know I’d prefer to avoid those frightening scenes—agreed? Just tip a glass of clear, refreshing water more regularly.
And keep in mind that preventing dehydration is reason enough to drink water, but getting plenty of water can also lead directly to extra wellness benefits. For example, water can support weight-loss efforts. Many people mistake a sense of thirst for hunger and take action by eating. Getting in the habit of responding first with a long, refreshing drink of water easily avoids lots of excess calories.
The question, then, is not whether drinking more water is a smart practice—but instead how to make this important act a matter of effortless routine. Here are some ideas to help you get started:
- Easy does it.
If you stress about just HOW much water is in that “at least eight glasses a day” wisdom, you’ll worry yourself right out of building the habit. Forget the big, heavy, daunting jug of water and think small instead. You can easily drink a tiny cup—right now. Done.
- Link water to break-time routines.
Got a habit of standing up to stretch or walk at least a couple times per hour during your workday? (Hint: I hope you do!) Double the benefits of that vital break by drinking down another small cup of water, too.
Can’t remember? No problem. A broad assortment of reminder apps and timers out there can help you get both routine movement AND regular hydration into your busy day.
- Double the value of your seasonal self-care.
Recovering from a surprise late-season cold, or keeping your spring allergies at bay? Good hydration helps on both counts by thinning congestion and restoring fluids lost to nose-blowing or coughing. Here’s another opportunity for using the habit-linking trick: Whenever you treat your symptom, treat yourself to an extra small cup of water, too.
- Take a quick detour on the route to meals.
Before contemplating the snack machine, reading the menu, or discussing where to go for dinner with friends, drink a glass or two of water. That’ll take the edge off your hunger, so you’re more likely to make reasonable food choices.
- And speaking of meals…
Consider adding an extra piece of fruit or a crisp, fresh side salad to your meal—not just because they are healthful food choices, but because these delicious selections also contain lots of water. That’s a double-shot of smart fueling for the body.
- Pump up the interest.
Clear, pure water is the best choice for routine hydration, but occasionally you may want something a little more interesting. That’s okay! Spa water or herbal tea are perfectly fine choices as well. Just avoid drinks that contain caffeine, alcohol, sugar, and colorings, and you’ll get all the benefits of “plain old water,” plus an added kick.
As the days lengthen and signs of life continue to abound outdoors, I hope you, too, may be feeling a return to greater activity and a pull toward exploring and enjoying the out-of-doors world. What a hopeful, motivated feeling! Just be sure that you are allowing sustaining, restorative water into your routine—and supporting all vital functions of an active, healthy body!