Water is essential to nearly every function of the human body. It regulates our temperature; cushions and protects vital organs; aids in digestion; and acts within each cell to transport nutrients and dispel waste. According to the American Council on Exercise, water constitutes 75 percent of muscle tissue and 10 percent of essential fatty tissue, contributing to good health and strength. Since the brain is 75 percent water, being moderately dehydrated causes headaches, dizziness, and, according to some reports, mental fogginess.
Water is also required for healthy lung function, moistening oxygen so that you can breathe better. The International Bottled Water Association says that adequate hydration helps convert food into energy and cushions joints. And the nutrition site HealthyCrush.com points to good hydration for healthier skin, hair and nails.
*Are You Dehydrated?
Headache and feelings of thirst are often the first signs that your water levels are too low. Other signs include:
--Sleepiness or fatigue.
--Feeling dizzy or lightheaded.
--No tears when crying.
--Little or no urine or urine that is darker than usual.
Pay careful attention to your urine color. A pale shade of yellow is often a good indicator that your body is functioning with an optimum amount of hydration.
When it's hot outside or when you are exercising, have a fever or are ill with vomiting or diarrhea, your rates of dehydration increase, and you must take extra steps to replenish water lost through these extreme conditions. On an everyday basis, you lose water simply by normal perspiration, going to the bathroom and even breathing. When you don't replenish your body's water content, dehydration sets in.
*How Much Water Do You Need?
Several medical studies have challenged the old formula of drinking eight glasses of water a day, totaling 64 ounces. According to the American Council on Exercise, a healthy woman should aim for 2.7 liters of water per day, and a healthy man should aim for 3.7 liters, through both beverage and food sources. It's best, however, to consult with your doctor or licensed nutritionist to assess your own body's hydration needs.
Some medical conditions require intake of more or less water. For instance, according to the American Council on Exercise, those with bladder infections or kidney stones may be advised to drink more water to aid in flushing out toxins and obstructions. If you're pregnant or breastfeeding, your physician or nutritionist can advise you on ideal water intake for your weight, body temperature and fitness levels.
*What To Drink for Better Hydration
Water is the best option for hydrating the body. Juices that are 100 percent fruit, milk and herbal teas also help hydrate you, but be sure to avoid juices with high sugar content.
Caffeinated drinks, such as coffee, tea and soda, contribute to water intake in moderation. But be careful: Overdoing it with caffeinated beverages can actually dehydrate you, since such drinks often act as diuretics.
Low-sugar sports drinks can provide hydration, electrolytes and carbohydrates to prevent low blood sugar. But the American Council on Exercise suggests checking the serving size of a sports drink bottle, as one bottle may contain several servings, caffeine or high levels of sodium.
*What To Eat for Better Hydration
According to the International Bottled Water Association, 80 percent of hydration usually comes from beverages, and 20 percent comes from the food you eat. Fruits, vegetables and broth-based soups perform wonderfully in the delivery of water to your system.
To better hydrate yourself, add to your diet more foods with higher water content. According to the American Dietetic Association, here are some foods with high levels of water content:
--Lettuce (1 1/2 cups): 95 percent water.
--Watermelon (1 1/2 cups): 92 percent.
--Broccoli (1 1/2 cups): 91 percent.
--Grapefruit (1 1/2 cups): 91 percent.
--Milk (1 cup): 89 percent.
--Orange (3/4 cup): 88 percent.
--Carrot (1 1/2 cups): 87 percent.
--Yogurt (1 cup): 85 percent.
--Apple (medium size): 84 percent.
HealthyCrush.com's list of hydrating, healthy foods features grapes, peaches, tomatoes, berries, watermelon, lettuce, celery, pineapple, cucumber, pears, peppers and cantaloupe.
*Don't Overdo It
Drinking too much water can cause a potentially deadly condition known as hyponatremia, a water intoxication that can shut down your organs. Physicians advise dividing up the amount of water you need each day rather than drinking it all at once, and drinking before, during and after workouts.