Making changes to your health and the way you feel can be a timely process. When it comes to things like incorporating a new exercise routine or changing your diet to remove suspected allergens. You may not notice immediate changes, it could take weeks or even months.
There is one change you can make, however, that can improve things much faster. It can have a profound effect on your energy levels, digestion, the way you look and even your pain levels.
The fastest thing you can do to start taking control of your health right now is free, quick and easy to do, yet so many people spend a large part of their day dehydrated.
Around 60% of your body is water! It has an effect on every cell in your body and it is continually in movement. Even while you read this article you are losing water just by breathing and through evaporation from your skin.
Why Hydration Is Essential To Your Health
We've all heard that we need to drink more water to keep our bodies hydrated. But hydration is much more than just drinking a specific amount of water every day.
Water plays an essential role in the body. By understanding why water is so vital, we can see why hydration is the foundation of good health and the start of changing how you feel.
You might be aware of some of the mechanisms of the body that require water. We know that things like urine and sweat production need water. But water is actually needed for the majority of reactions in the body.
If you're suffering from joint pain then a simple way to look at how hydration can help is - water transits nutrients into your cells for energy and repair and then takes the waste metabolites away to be excreted from your body.
If you are dehydrated you have a build-up of these waste metabolites occurring in your body.
If you are suffering from joint pain, digestive issues or autoimmune conditions, then your symptoms are extremely unlikely to improve if you are dehydrated.
Being dehydrated puts your body into a state of stress. Now as drastic as that sounds, it is an innate survival mechanism to help us through times when we cannot access water.
When our body is stressed it's primary function becomes survival and there is less energy used on things like digestion and healing injuries.
Your body needs water for:
Lymphatic & immune function to move white blood cells around your body.
Transport of nutrients via the blood.
Removal of waste via urine.
Removal of waste via the bowels.
Temperature regulation, including sweat.
Breathing (the surface of our lungs is coated in fluid).
Lubrication of the joints.
Moistening eyes, mouth and nose to protect the body from pathogens.
Digestion of food via digestive juices.
Keeping the urinary tract free of bacteria.
Protect the spinal cord and eyes from damage, working as a 'shock absorber'.
Maintaining the integrity of our largest organ – the skin.
These are just some of the key mechanisms of water. Every single cell in the human body needs water in order to survive. So it's not surprising that dehydration can have such a negative impact on our health.
The Signs Of Dehydration
Dehydration can sneak up on you. Especially in today's busy world, you can go from feeling fine to being parched in a matter of minutes. But there are more signs to dehydration than just feeling thirsty.
Here are the signs to watch for if you think you're dehydrated:
Poor focus and concentration
Moodiness, including irritation
Low energy levels
Poor performance during workouts
Chronic dehydration can also lead to:
Dry, damaged skin
Low blood pressure
High risk of joint damage
Urinary tract infections
Increased risk of infections
Of course, all of these symptoms could be due to a number of factors. If you experience any of them regularly though then it's important to start paying close attention to your hydration.
As well as paying attention to how you feel, you can monitor your hydration levels by looking at the colour of your urine.
You should aim for a light yellow colour seen on the top two levels of the chart.
If your urine is darker than this, it is a sign that you are already dehydrated and should drink water right away.
Note: Some foods and supplements can cause your urine to be darker so keep this in mind if you take B-Vitamins or regularly eat foods like beetroot.
The Benefits of Staying Hydrated
Now we've looked at some of the negatives dehydration can have on your health, let's look at some of the positives staying hydrated can have:
As well as drinking enough water, another key factor is electrolyte balance. In particular, potassium and sodium play a role in balancing the hydration of the body.
Many people know that excess sodium can lead to water retention. This is because sodium holds water in the body. But at the same time, too little sodium means that the body cannot hold onto water. Instead, it just passes straight through to the kidneys.
For optimal electrolyte balance, it's best to balance your sodium intake by:
Eliminating as many sources of processed sodium as possible. This means processed foods, takeaway foods and very salty foods like soy sauce.
Including sodium in a more natural form, such as sea salt. Many people who eat only whole-foods can become deficient in sodium, especially with regular exercise. Minimally processed salts such as sea salt or Himalayan salt have a balance of minerals.
How Much Is Enough?
Everyone wants to know the 'magic number' for hydration.
Unfortunately, it doesn't exist and can be different from person to person.
Your age, weight, activity level, diet and the climate you live in all affect how much water you should be consuming. Even though it may not be hot outdoors if you have your heating turned up then you will be losing more water just by sitting in your front room breathing vs sitting in a cooler room.
There are some guidelines you can follow to help.
To get started, try these steps:
For most people aiming between 1.5 and 2L per day is a general guideline. Try to consume this amount for at least 2 weeks, so your body adjusts to the additional water. If you consume far less than this, start with a week of slowly increasing your intake – increase by 1 cup per day.
When exercising, add 1-2 cups of water for every 30 minutes of intense exercise, and 1 cup for every 30 minutes of easy or moderate exercise.
Observe your urine colour to monitor your state of hydration. You want it to be a very light yellow colour. If it's consistently dark yellow, increase your water by another 1-2 cups a day and re-assess.
By following these guidelines, you can start to notice patterns in your hydration.
Some people find it easy to drink water in the morning but forget in the afternoon which may tie in with a slump in energy. If you notice darker urine then take a minute to notice how you feel so you can start to recognise it in the future.
Getting Enough Water
Now you know how water supports your health, and why it can help you feel more energetic and focused. It's just remembering to drink enough throughout the day.
Here are some easy ways to incorporate more water into your day:
Consume high-water fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, cucumbers, strawberries and celery. These can be particularly useful in summer when it's hard to stay hydrated in the heat. It's estimated that 20% of our water consumption comes from our food.
Flavour your water. This is an easy way to make water more appetizing, especially if you don't like water. You can add fresh or frozen fruit, vegetables and even herbs into your water to infuse
If you prefer soft drinks, try drinking sparkling water. You can infuse it with fruits for a sweeter taste.
Enjoy herbal teas, particularly in the colder months. Not only is tea rich in antioxidants it helps to keep you hydrated.
Download a water reminder app for your phone to keep track of your consumption. This sounds a bit extreme to some but this will help you get into the habit of drinking small amounts frequently. carrying a water bottle is also a good way of monitoring what you have consumed that day and how much you have left to go.
Important times to drink
The most important time of day to get a good amount of water in you is after waking up in the morning. If you have had your full 8 hours sleep then that's 8 hours your body has had without water and it should be your immediate priority upon waking, especially before eating.
If you don't enjoy drinking water as soon as you wake up then try adding some freshly squeezed lemon juice into a glass of warm water. Not only does this help start your digestive system for the day it also delivers a welcome boost of Vitamin C to nourish your immune system for the day ahead.
Other important times of the day are 30 minutes before a meal. Your digestive system functions better when you are hydrated and your brain is better able to communicate how hungry you are and when you are full.
It is ok to have a few sips of water with your meal but drinking lots of water with your food is not good for your digestion as it dilutes your digestive juices.
So if you're ready to feel happy, healthy and strong, start by looking at optimising your hydration levels. Something as simple as drinking enough water can make a huge impact on your health, energy and vitality.