Summer is prime time for barbecues, long days at the beach and outdoor activities. While enjoying some fun in the sun, it is easy to be hit by dehydration. In warmer temperatures, we tend to lose a significant amount of fluid through our skin in the form of sweat. Body water, however, is an essential part of staying healthy. The amount of water in the human body ranges, and the average adult is approximately 50-60% water. Drinking fluids is therefore crucial to staying healthy and maintaining the function of every system in the body, including the heart, brain, and muscles.
Daily fluid needs
The amount of fluid needed to stay hydrated is different from person to person based on age, medical conditions, and other factors. In 2004, the Institute of Medicine set the recommended amount at 2.7 liters (about 11 cups) for women and an average of 3.7 liters (about 16 cups) for men. This includes water from all sources, not just beverages. We get about a liter from food (think fruits and vegetables!) and the water our body makes, which translates into a recommendation for 4-7 cups of water a day for women and 6-11 cups for men.
Early signs of dehydration
The body begins to experience dehydration before you may even know that you are thirsty! When the systems of the body do not have enough water, the body’s cells will start extracting water from the bloodstream. When the blood is cycled back through the heart, the heart realizes there is not enough water and triggers the thirst response telling us it’s time to drink more. Once you start replacing water in the system, it can be a little too late as the body has been dehydrated and has a lot of work to do to compensate.
Prevention is key
How can you prevent this? Drink water and drink it often, even if you may not be thirsty! On days where it is hot or when you go to the beach, you will need even more water to replace what is lost through perspiration.
The best way to tell whether you are hydrated? Keep an eye on what goes out as much as what’s going in. That means, an easy way to monitor your hydration is to look at the color of your urine. If your urine is dark, that’s a good indicator that you need to drink more fluids. It should be clear or a pale-yellow color.
Here are some tips to keep you on track this summer:
- Carry a refillable water bottle on hand to remind you to drink more throughout the day. The water bottle is a physical reminder to drink even if you’re not thirsty. If you are physically active or heading to the beach, be sure to have a source for easy refills! Water is best.
- Add flavor. Use some fresh fruit or herbs for an extra kick. Avoid reaching for fruit juices or sports drinks as these can be harsh on your stomach if you are dehydrated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sugar-sweetened beverages are also leading sources of added sugars in the American diet. Frequently drinking sugar-sweetened beverages is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney diseases, tooth decay and cavities, and gout. Limiting the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages will not only help to keep you hydrated but will also help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat your fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables have a high water content. Aim for 2-3 cups per day of vegetables and 1 ½ cups per day of fruit. Your body will thank you in more ways than one!
- Limit your alcohol. While this may be tempting on a hot day, as always we recommend limiting consumption to less than one drink for women and two drinks per men. Be sure to drink extra water if you choose to consume alcohol.
Staying hydrated is key to avoiding serious health consequences that come along with severe dehydration. Keep in mind that dehydration and heat exhaustion can occur quickly. If you have underlying heart disease or other cardiac conditions, please talk to your doctor about ways you can protect your heart during extreme heat. If you feel dehydrated or dizzy, it is best to get out of the sun, sip some water and apply cool compresses to your head, neck and chest. If symptoms don’t improve quickly, get to a doctor or call 9-1-1.