The 4th H

Staying Hydrated Helps Keep You Healthy

Authors: Angie Frost & Arin Weidner
Published: July 24, 2017
Glasses of water flavored with fresh fruits and berries

In Indiana, we typically spend summertime outdoors enjoying the activities we Midwesterners can only do in summer. It’s easy to spend hours in the sunshine — whether playing in the backyard, sitting on the porch, or tending to the garden. But with the increased time spent in the heat and being more physically active, staying hydrated helps us keep healthy during the summer.

This is sometimes easier said than done. There are a lot of questions about knowing how much water to drink and when to drink it. Here are three of the most common questions and our answers.

The most common questions about staying hydrated are:

  • ​Is the recommended six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day accurate?
  • Do we need to drink before we feel thirsty, or can we wait until thirst hits?
  • Is water the only choice for hydration?

This article will help to answer those questions by discussing why we need to consume enough fluids, when we might need additional fluids, and how we can tell if we are getting enough.

First, it is important to understand why we need to consume enough fluids. Our bodies contain around 60 percent water. Water helps us regulate our body temperatures, cushions and protects joints and vital organs, transports nutrients, and helps us digest food. Keep in mind that our bodies lose water through breathing, sweating, excreting waste products — this means we must replenish the water in our bodies.

Environmental factors (such as temperature and humidity) can also cause our bodies to lose water. Physical activity (like exercise and labor-intensive occupations or chores) will increase the need for us to take in more fluids. Even some medical conditions need extra attention when it comes to staying hydrated — kidney stones, bladder infections, and certain medications. On a normal workday, drinking the recommended six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water might be plenty for you. But that may not be enough if you exercise on hot or humid days, or if you are sick.​

Every cell, tissue, and organ in our bodies contains water. Water is essential to our survival.

The Institute of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board currently recommends that men drink 13 cups of fluid per day and that women drink nine cups per day. They base their recommendations on the assumption that you’ll consume 20 percent of your fluids from the foods you eat — like high water-content fruits (melons, berries, and stone fruits) and vegetables (cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce, and bell peppers). That means you need to drink enough liquids to get the other 80 percent your body needs. These liquids can include water (of course) but also milk, juice, and tea.

So, how can you tell if you are consuming enough fluids?

One way is to monitor the color of your urine. If you are adequately hydrated, your urine should be pale yellow — similar to the color of lemonade. If your urine is the color of apple juice or darker, or if it is particularly smelly, then you need to consume more fluids. Most people can stay well hydrated by drinking water and other liquids whenever they feel thirsty. The combination of monitoring urine color and drinking fluids when thirsty is a good approach for ensuring proper hydration.

As important as it is to talk about staying hydrated, we also need to talk about the consequences of not paying attention to your fluid intake. Dehydration, which results from inadequate fluid consumption, can have serious consequences. Signs and symptoms of dehydration include: muscle fatigue, cramps, loss of coordination, difficulty concentrating, little or no urine output, dry mouth, extreme fatigue, headache, and dizziness or light-headedness. Other signs of dehydration include heat exhaustion and possibly heat stroke. It is important to be aware of these dehydration indicators. If untreated, the symptoms could worsen and result in more severe medical conditions.

Water doesn’t have to lack flavor. Try adding fresh fruit to create a new favorite beverage with all the hydration benefits your body needs.

A boy drinks from a bottle of water through a straw

A lot of people say, “I would drink more water, but I don’t like the way it tastes.”

Water is a great source for hydration, but other liquids are also acceptable — such as milk, juice or tea. Keep in mind that these other liquids can offer much-needed nutrients like vitamins, minerals or calcium. However, these are other sources contribute calories, which may not be necessary in your diet.

If you don’t like the taste of plain water, try adding some sliced fruit like lemon or lime wedges. You can also add some fresh herbs along with your favorite fruit for a refreshing and tasty treat — try strawberry and basil, or cucumber and mint.

If you are already a water drinker, but find you aren’t drinking enough throughout the day, try marking a water bottle with 2-hour increments. This simple solution can help remind you to consume water at least every couple of hours. There are also free apps available for both Apple and Android phones that can remind you to drink enough fluids throughout the day. There is even an app that will tell you the location of the nearest water fountain/dispenser.

It is worth mentioning a few thoughts about sports drinks and energy drinks.

Sports drinks can be overused and misused. Sports drinks are intended to replace lost electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, and replenish carbohydrates that were lost during high-intensity exercise or physical activity exceeding an hour. Unless you have been physically active for more than an hour, or you are a person who sweats profusely, water is the best fluid for rehydration.

Energy drinks, on the other hand, are beverages that contain energy-boosting supplements including caffeine, vitamins, minerals, and other active ingredients. These drinks are considered dietary supplements, which are unregulated, untested, and are not required to be proven safe or effective. Energy drinks may increase blood pressure or heart palpitations and can exacerbate anxiety. You should consume these beverages with caution and they should not be consumed by kids under 18.

How can you maintain proper hydration and avoid dehydration?

Here’s a call to action for you to try. Take a reusable water bottle with you wherever you go and make water the beverage of choice at 4-H club or work meetings. If you are in an Indiana 4-H club or 4-H club leader, consider incorporating the 4th H for Health Challenge into your club meetings. One of the challenges is to make water the beverage of choice at a minimum of six of your meetings.

If you are interested in this challenge, contact Angie Frost at alfrost@purdue.edu. Visit our Indiana 4-H Facebook page (@Indiana4H) and tell us how you stay hydrated during these long hot summer days.

Angie Frost is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension and registered dietitian. She leads a team of county Purdue Extension staff, and collaborates with campus specialists and faculty to provide opportunities for Indiana 4-H youth to learn about healthy living.

Arin Weidner is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue ExtensionShe supports Indiana 4-H programming by creating technology-facilitated curriculum and learning opportunities. She also collaborates with Purdue Extension staff and faculty to develop new ideas for learning in 4-H for youth and adults.

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