Water is essential to good health, yet needs vary by individual. Your water needs depend on many factors, including your health, how active you are and where you live. Although no single formula fits everyone, knowing more about your body’s need for fluids will help you estimate how much water to drink each day.
Health benefits of water
Water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of your body weight. Every system in your body depends on water. For example, water flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to your cells and provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues.
Lack of water can lead to dehydration, a condition that occurs when you don’t have enough water in your body to carry out normal functions. Even mild dehydration can drain your energy and make you tired.
Factors that influence water needs
You may need to modify your total fluid intake depending on how active you are, the climate you live in, your health status, and if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding.
Beyond the tap: Other sources of water
Although it’s a great idea to keep water within reach at all times, you don’t need to rely only on what you drink to meet your fluid needs. What you eat also provides a significant portion of your fluid needs. On average, food provides about 20 percent of total water intake. For example, many fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon and tomatoes, are 90 percent or more water by weight.
In addition, beverages such as milk and juice are composed mostly of water. Even beer, wine and caffeinated beverages — such as coffee, tea or soda — can contribute, but these should not be a major portion of your daily total fluid intake. Water is still your best bet because it’s calorie-free, inexpensive and readily available.
Staying safely hydrated
It’s generally not a good idea to use thirst alone as a guide for when to drink. By the time you become thirsty, you may already be slightly dehydrated. Further, as you get older your body is less able to sense dehydration and send your brain signals of thirst. On the other hand, excessive thirst and increased urination can be signs of a more serious medical condition. Talk to your doctor if you experience either.
Avoid dehydration by following these tips:
* Drink a glass of water with each meal and between each meal.
* Hydrate before, during and after exercise.
* Substitute sparkling water for alcoholic drinks at social gatherings.
Although uncommon, it is possible to drink too much water. When your kidneys are unable to excrete the excess water, the electrolyte (mineral) content of the blood is diluted, resulting in low sodium levels in the blood, a condition called hyponatremia. Endurance athletes, such as marathon runners, who drink large amounts of water, are at higher risk of hyponatremia. In general, though, drinking too much water is rare in healthy adults who eat an average American diet.
If you drink enough fluid so that you rarely feel thirsty and produce 1.5 liters (6.3 cups) or more of colorless or slightly yellow urine a day, your fluid intake is probably adequate. If you’re concerned about your fluid intake, check with your doctor or a registered dietitian. He or she can help you determine the amount of water that’s best for you.
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