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The Importance of Staying Hydrated

the importance of staying hydrated

Most people know that water makes up the majority of our physical body. They probably also have “drink X glasses of water a day” advice tucked away somewhere in their brain. But few people realize how easy it can be to become dehydrated. Furthermore, the effects of dehydration are often ignored simply because they are unrecognized. In this post, we will look at the reasons why it is so important to stay hydrated and we will offer a few specific tips for the road.

What happens when you get dehydrated?

There are several grades of dehydration: mild to moderate and severe.

Mild to moderate dehydration

Mild dehydration may include a light headache, dry mouth, and fatigue. Your urine will likely be a darker color than normal, but won’t be until you are more moderately dehydrated that the urine will become a darker amber color. Also, you may not be going to the bathroom as frequently as normal.

With moderate dehydration, your headache is more severe, you are more fatigued and you are probably a bit lightheaded and dizzy as well. It’s at this point that your body also doesn’t have enough water to keep you cool. You might find it pleasant to be sweating less, but this is not a good sign. You may experience heat cramps, heat stroke, or heat exhaustion.

Severe dehydration

Severe dehydration should not be taken lightly. Notably, it’s at this stage where your brain and organs can become affected. You will feel more lightheaded and dizzy, and you may also start experiencing confusion. Confusion should worry you if earlier symptoms did not. It means that the level of dehydration has reached a point where your brain cells are now affected. In extreme cases of dehydration, unconsciousness and organ failure can occur.

You should not encounter severe dehydration in normal circumstances. That said, there are instances of people being hospitalized with dehydration as the cause and in many cases, these patients did not know that they were dehydrated! They assume there is some other malady afflicting them.

Recognizing dehydration

Obviously, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, dehydration is a likely candidate. In some cases, however, it can be easy to confuse mild to moderate dehydration symptoms with something else. For example, if you have dehydration combined with heatstroke, you may think you are coming down with the flu or something like malaria! If you are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms, what color is urine? And furthermore, how often have you been urinating? How much water have you consumed? Answering these questions can help you zero in on the cause. If you are urinating infrequently and your urine is a dark yellow or even amber color, you are dehydrated and you need to drink some fluids.

Tips for staying hydrated on the road

Common advice is to drink 8 8-ounce glasses of water a day. But depending one where you are at, you may need more than that. If you have a lost a lot of water from sweating or from something like diarrhea, you will need to work over-time replenishing your fluids.

It’s also not a good idea to simply “drink when you’re thirsty.” This seems to work alright when it comes to hunger, but often times thirst does not clearly manifest itself. Also, did you know that sometimes thirst can be confused for hunger? Here are a few tips for staying hydrated:

  • Take note of the color of your urine and how often you are urinating. If it is dark in color and you are going more than 8 hours without urinating, you need to replenish your fluids.
  • Carry a water bottle! Need some recommendations? See this post.
  • If you are dehydrated, it may take more than just water to bring you back to equilibrium. Have your next glass with an oral rehydration salt. You can buy these at any pharmacy. If you’re in a bind, put a pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt into a glass of water and stir.
  • Try scheduling your water drinking. If you consistently find that you wait until it’s too late to dehydrate and symptoms have already started, try to create a water drinking schedule. For example, a glass after you wake up, another at 1030AM, etc.
  • Drink juice, tea, coffee in moderation. Many people are under the impression that caffeinated beverages will automatically dehydrate you. This is true if you overdo it, but one tea or coffee will actually help to hydrate you a bit. You can also buy sports drinks like gatorade, which will help replenish your electrolytes.

Have any of your own tips for staying hydrated? Please share them in the comments below.

Photo credit: flickr user lemonflavor

{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Katrina May 12, 2012, 10:17 am

    As they told us in bootcamp, “The water you drink today is the water you’ll use tomorrow!” A good reminder to drink plenty in advance.

    An early, and often missed, sign of dehydration can be hunger. If you know that you’ve eaten within a reasonable amount of time, but can’t shake the hunger pangs, drink some water. Could be you’re just a wee bit thirsty instead.

    Severe dehydration/heat stroke can manifest in the form of bloating, bowel cramping, and diarrhoea. Learned that the hard way.

    One final thing about heat injuries from bootcamp: once you’ve experienced one, even once, you may be more prone to succumbing to another. Take care of your body!

    Cheers and happy drinking. 🙂

    • phil May 13, 2012, 7:40 am

      Hey Katrina,
      Thanks for this informed comment! Great tips 🙂

  • Blanca May 17, 2012, 1:01 pm

    Hello Phil!, congratulations! another great article! As you just said, thirst is definitively not a good dehydration indicator, we start feeling thirsty when we already are 2% dehydrated (mild dehydration)!

    Good hydration has shown to reduce the risk of developing kidney stones, constipation, exercise induced asthma, and is associated with a reduction in urinary tract infections, hypertension, heart attacks, venous thromboembolism and stroke!

    When we sweat we lose electrolytes too, so we shouldn’t wait until we are mildly dehydrated, prevent it with a correct oral rehydration solution. Preventing diseases is cheaper than treating them!

    • phil May 17, 2012, 8:26 pm

      Great info here, Blanca! Thanks so much for your helpful comment!

  • Paul Kirtley July 5, 2012, 6:29 am

    Hi Phil,

    I just wanted to say well done on a clear and well-written article. I often have to remind my students to make a conscious effort to rehydrate while on our outdoor courses. Increased activity obviously increases the need for good hydration and even a percent or two dehydration can cause 10%+ drop in physical performance. It certainly shows with people becoming slower, tiring more easily and generally being lethargic about tasks. Headaches often ensue later.

    When you do drink, drink deep. I find a good tip is to drink out of a (pint) mug rather than a bottle – we tend to sip from bottles but will finish what is in a mug. Adding a little juice or isotonic powder helps it go down.

    When I’m travelling by plane I always buy a bottle of water once I get airside at the airport. I can then keep drinking while on the flight (which are normally pretty dry). The small amounts of water they give you inflight are not sufficient to keep you well hydrated.

    Thanks and keep up the good work!


    • phil August 21, 2013, 6:52 pm

      Hey Paul,
      Thanks a lot for the additional tips! Very helpful! And you are right about the airplane. The air is actually drier than any desert on earth, so definitely a good idea to hydrate while flying! Thanks for your input.

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