“They talk of my drinking but never my thirst.” – Scottish Proverb
“You've heard it by now a million times: drink at least eight glasses of water a day.” New York Times personal health columnist, Jane Brody, began her article, “Personal Health; for Life Long Gains, Just Add Water. Repeat,” with those words. Although most people hadn’t heard this once, let alone a million times, apparently this oft-repeated “fact” spread like wildfire. Cartoon decorated signs appeared in grade school cafeterias, doctors included it in their patient instructions, fitness magazines listed “eight glasses a day” as a mandate for good health in their pages.
Soon the questions began. How big is a glass? Do other beverages count? Says who? Brody herself recanted her statement in 2004 saying simply “Well, I was wrong.”
In our thirst for knowledge, did we assume we were knowledgeable about thirst? What should we know to quench our thirst?
Why do we need water?
Simply, because we are water. According to ShapeFit.com, the human body is made up of between 55% and 75% water. Every major body system is fueled by it. It’s everywhere: around our brains, pumping through our blood, in each and every cell. Although we would need to lose about ten percent of our body weight in fluids to completely shut down, as little as one to two percent loss can result in dehydration symptoms. Fatigue, headache, dry mouth, muscle weakness, dizziness are all signs that you need to stop what you are doing and drink up.
Is thirst a good gauge?
An old Arab proverb says “It is wise to bring some water when one goes out to look for water.” Although thirst is the brain’s way of assuring the body stays hydrated, it is not always a fail-proof system. Think of thirst as a warning light in your car. It flashes to tell you that you are low on fluids. But what if the car is so low on fluids or so broken down the light itself doesn’t work? As we age, our sense of thirst weakens. According to the Mayo Clinic, during vigorous exercise you may lose a large amount of fluid before your thirst kicks in. Health factors such as diabetes, kidney issues, or nutrient imbalances can all lead to excessive or diminished thirst. The bottom line is thirst serves as an adequate gauge when the body is a well-oiled machine. Just as you normally would not wait to eat until you are starving, don’t wait to drink until you are parched.
How much water do we lose?
Perhaps the best way to figure out how much water we need to consume is to work backwards – how much water do we need to replace? It seems obvious to replace fluids after exercise – and you should. The body loses approximately two cups of water during an hour of aerobic exercise. What about other activities? According to ShapeFit.com, if your feet or body sweat throughout the day, even in unnoticeable amounts, you’ve lost another cup of water. The simple act of living requires cups and cups! The lungs use between two and four cups just for normal breathing. The average adult produces and releases 1.5 liters of urine a day. Clearly, the recommendation of eight 8-ounce cups is just enough for normal, everyday living.
When do we need more water?
Before you pat yourself on the back for consuming enough water for your body to turn into sweat and urine, stop to consider other factors. Where are you? According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several environmental factors that affect water consumption needs. You will need to drink more water in hot weather to keep your body temperature low. Heated indoor air can dry your skin out or cause sweating. Higher altitudes have been shown to increase the rate of breathing, which uses more water. How are you feeling? Symptoms of sickness such as fever, diarrhea, and vomiting all deplete your body’s fluid reserves. Are you drinking alone? The Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant or breast-feeding women up their intake by up to three cups per day.
What if there is no water around?
When traveling, Dr. Ann Grandjean of the Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness recommends thinking of water “as a nutrient your body needs. The nutrient ‘water’ is present in plain drinking water, of course. But, it is also present in other fluids.” Most other beverages, including coffee, soft drinks, and juices are between 85% and 95% water. Food typically accounts for about 20% of your daily water intake as well. Thirsty? Grab an orange (87% water), cucumber (95% water), or slice of lean turkey (64% water.) The aptly named watermelon is about 91% water. According to Grandjean, these sources of water are just as hydrating as plain water itself, since water is “absorbed by the body and acts the same physiologically regardless of its dietary source.” Before you pick up that two-liter bottle of cola, remember—hydration is all about health. That sugary beverage may rehydrate you but think of all the calories and chemicals involved. Fried bacon is 12% water but probably isn’t your healthiest choice for fluid intake.
Hydration is unlike most other human needs in the aspect that it is hard to overdo. According to Thomas Deahl, DMD, PhD, “overconsumption of water rarely threatens health, because a healthy body can readily excrete excess water. However, chronic overconsumption of food and exceeding daily energy needs, by only a small amount, can threaten health.” When it comes to water indulgence is encouraged. Isn’t that refreshing? Just remember to choose your types of beverages carefully. Before you reach for the caffeinated, high caloric, or highly marketed options, heed the words of Henry David Thoreau, “Water is the only drink for a wise man.”
To bottle or not(tle?)
The commercials tout bottled water as the best thing since sliced bread claiming it’s more convenient, safer, and healthier. Take it from the experts and don’t buy into the hype. “It struck me,” said Gustave Levin, former chairman of Perrier, “that all you had to do is take the water out of the ground and then sell it for more than the price of wine, milk, or for that matter, oil.” According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, Americans spent billion dollars on water in 2007 alone. According to an Earth Policy Institute report, bottled water costs up to per gallon, which is up to 10,000 times the price of tap water. Striving to go green? Keep in mind that 2.7 million tons of plastic and 17 million barrels of oil are used for one year’s worth of US bottled water. Why waste resources? Countless studies including those run by Switzerland-based World Wildlife Fund have shown that bottled water offers no health or safety advantages. If you have any doubts about your community’s water, contact your local water utility and ask to see the Annual Water Quality Report. For the EPA’s online versions, visit:
For more information, please visit:
Environmental Protection Agency - http://www.epa.gov/
Beverage Institute for Health and Wellness - http://www.beverageinstitute.org/
Earth Policy Institute- http://www.earth-policy.org/
Get the most bang for your bottle and help others while you drink. http://www.ethoswater.com/
© 2010 New Perspectives. Permission to copy this article is granted provided the author is notified and the following bio information is included:
Kathleen Passanisi, PT, CSP, CPAE is an internationally recognized professional speaker, therapeutic humor expert, healthcare professional, and author. A proud member of the NSA Speaker Hall of Fame, she has spoken to bazillions of people about life balance, wellness, the power of perception, women’s issues, and the link that exists between humor and health. For more information on Kathleen’s presentations, books, SPARK magazine and products, please visit the New Perspectives website at www.kathleenpassanisi.com.
Annie Passanisi, co-creator of SPARK magazine, is a Chicago-based actor, singer, writer, marketer, and polka dot enthusiast. Her passion for applied positive psychology has led her to join her award-winning professional speaking mother on the platform. For more information, please visit www.TheAnniePassanisi.com.
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