SPECIAL FROM Grandparents.com
For a long time, we've been led to believe we need to drink 8 cups of water a day, but “this number doesn’t come from any research,” says Riana Pryor, who specializes in heat and hydration research at the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut. And although First Lady Michelle Obama’s new message urging Americans to drink more water is a good one for many reasons, no federal guidelines actually exist telling us how much water we should be drinking.
The latest guidelines from the Institute of Medicine recommend that most women consume about 91 ounces—that’s actually about 9 cups of total water a day. Men need a bit more; about 125 ounces (or 13 cups) a day. But there's good news: that total includes other beverages (like coffee, tea, soda and milk) as well as foods (for example, one medium apple translates to about 6 ounces of fluid).
Since water makes up more than two-thirds of the weight of the human body, staying hydrated is important for a few reasons. Water lubricates and cushions your joints, protects your spinal cord and other sensitive tissues, and transports wastes from your body through perspiration, urination, and bowel movements. Being hydrated helps with memory and cognition; it also helps to improve your mood and immune function.
In terms of how much you really need, it depends on your size, weight, age, activity level, and more. Both children and adults over 50 have thirst mechanisms that are behind the normal healthy population. The danger? You might be slower to recognize thirst and thus be at more risk of becoming dehydrated (especially children, who lose water through increased activity and sweat). A helpful reminder to stay hydrated: keep some water within reach whenever possible and take frequent sips throughout the day.
Trust your thirst
For normal healthy adults, thirst is an excellent indicator of your hydration needs. Although we’ve been told for years that by the time you’re thirsty you’re already dehydrated, “if you’re not thirsty, it usually means you have enough water in your system,” she says. You’ll begin to feel thirst when you’re about two percent dehydrated (this amount of dehydration is not harmful to the body). This is a good indicator that it’s time to drink water, “or else you will become more dehydrated and start to see changes in mood, fatigue, and performance,” says Pryor. But there are exceptions to this rule: People who exercise a lot need more water; so do people who live or work in hot climates. What’s more, if you take multiple medications or rely on certain drugs like diuretics, antihistamines, and some psychiatric prescriptions, your hydration needs might be greater than the average person’s. It’s always best to check in with your pharmacist or healthcare provider. How do you know when you’re getting enough? Check your urine. If it’s pale (like lemonade), you are in good shape. But if it’s dark (like apple cider), you need to up your intake of fluids.
When you need to drink more
Certain illnesses and health conditions require you to drink more water; among them fever, vomiting or diarrhea, bladder infections, and urinary tract stones. On the other hand, conditions like heart failure or certain forms of kidney, liver, and adrenal diseases that have an effect on water excretion may require you to limit your intake of fluids. Also important to consider is how much salt you eat, says registered dietitian Danielle Omar, M.S., R.D., a nutritionist in the Washington, D.C. area. Someone eating a diet high in sodium will need more water, she says. So will a person whose diet doesn’t include fresh fruits and vegetables, which can contain a good amount of water.
Taking a lot of medications without drinking enough water could put a strain on your kidneys, whose job it is to remove waste from the blood. Water helps to flush out these wastes (another plus is that it can lower your chances of getting kidney stones and infections). For instance, if you take over-the-counter or prescription painkillers containing ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), it’s advisable to wash them down with a large glass of water to help eliminate the drug from your kidneys.
Other ways to hydrate
Although water is the first thing many of us think of when we hear “hydration,” foods like watermelon, carrots, grapes, cucumbers, and spinach have very high concentrations of water – over 90 percent, says Pryor. And the added bonus is that you’re also getting health benefits like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Coffee or tea, juice, soda, and sports drinks count, too: but beware of extra calories. Regular soda, energy or sports drinks, and other sweet drinks usually have a lot of added sugar (for instance, substituting water for one 20-ounce, sugar-sweetened soda will save you about 240 calories). You’re better off sipping water or other drinks that have few or no calories. “Mrs. Obama’s real message to drink more water is hoping to encourage people to switch from their sugary beverages to water,” thus fighting obesity, says Pryor. What about caffeine? While the caffeine in some energy drinks, coffee, and tea might have a mild diuretic effect, Omar says, studies do not show they increase the risk of dehydration.
Is bottled better than tap?
There’s no evidence that you’re safer drinking bottled water over tap; in fact just because water comes from a bottle, there’s no assurance it’s any cleaner or safer than tap water, according to some studies from environmental groups. An estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is simply tap water, which is sometimes treated, but oftentimes is not.
More is not always better
There is such a thing as drinking too much water – and it can, in extreme cases, be life threatening because the level of sodium in your blood becomes diluted, causing your cells to swell. Known as hyponatremia, or “water intoxication,” its symptoms include headache, confusion, fatigue, and irritability. It’s very rare among the average population (usually, stomach fullness will stop individuals from continuing to consume more water than they need) and most common among marathon runners or extreme athletes, who sometimes overestimate the amount of water they really need.
Water and hunger
Our bodies might be good at reading a lot of cues, but they are not always expert at knowing the difference between hunger and thirst. “A lot of people think they’re hungry because their stomach doesn’t feel full,” says Pryor, but sometimes if you drink water the hunger disappears. Many experts advise that people who think they’re hungry to drink a full glass of water and wait a few minutes to see if the desire to chow down goes away. Can drinking water actually help contribute to weight loss? It may be possible for some: A study published in the journal Obesity says that in overweight dieting women, drinking water may promote weight loss by speeding up metabolism. At the very least, it may cost you an extra trip (or two) to the bathroom, but it can’t hurt.
Earlier on HuffPost50:
1. Make Bad Dietary Choices
Over the years, there's been a lot of debate related to diet and longevity. But most experts agree that a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-williams-phd/best-diets_b_2268460.html" target="_blank">diet low in sugar and refined carbohydrates is best</a>. And some studies show that eating a traditional <a href="http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FBJN%2FBJN84_S2%2FS0007114500002701a.pdf&code=a4a2995aa69a094808c095f29250a990" target="_blank">Mediterranean diet</a> can add years to your life.
2. Never Check Your Cholesterol
Just like high blood pressure, <a href="http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/guide/heart-disease-lower-cholesterol-risk" target="_blank">high cholesterol can also increase your risk of heart disease</a> and stroke. Therefore it's a good idea to have your cholesterol checked to see whether you need to undergo certain lifestyle changes or even possibly take some kind of cholesterol-lowering medication. For more information about cholesterol and saturated fats, go <a href="http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/fats-full-story/" target="_blank">here.</a> Eating certain foods, such as beans, which are rich in fiber and antioxidants, can help lower cholesterol.
3. Mix Alcohol And Prescription Or Illicit Drugs
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/whitney-houston-prescription-drugs_b_1280439.html" target="_hplink">Even drinking wine with dinner and then taking prescription sleep aides can be a lethal combination</a>. A U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study found 5.8 percent of people age 50 to 59 used illicit drugs in 2010, up from 2.7 percent in 2002.
4. Never Check For Diabetes
The number of Americans with <a href="http://www.diabetes.org/" target="_hplink">Type 2 diabetes</a> is expected to rise from 30 million today to 46 million by 2030, when one of every four boomers -- 14 million -- will be living with this chronic disease, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. <br /> <br />Untreated diabetes can lead to blindness, amputations and clogged arteries that can cause heart attacks and strokes. The test to determine whether you are diabetic is a simple blood test; you should remind your doctor to include it in your annual physical.
5. Pack On The Pounds
More than one out of every three boomers -- more than 21 million -- will be considered obese by 2030. Already, we are the demographic with the highest and fastest-growing rate of obesity. As we age, our metabolism slows down and we burn fewer calories -- if we don't alter our eating and exercise patterns, weight gain is inevitable. Obesity can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and a host of other life-threatening ailments. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/the-dieting-10-percent-club-losing-weight-after-50_b_1440729.html" target="_hplink">Losing just 10 percent of your body weight</a> has health benefits, so consider that as a goal.
6. Ignore The Signs Of A Heart Attack
No chest pain doesn't mean no heart attack. <a href="http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/her-guide-to-a-heart-attack" target="_hplink">Women having heart attacks</a> frequently report experiencing a feeling of indigestion and extreme fatigue, while some men say they feel a fullness or a squeezing pain in the center of the chest, which may spread to the neck, shoulder or jaw. When a diabetic has a heart attack, the pain is often displaced to other areas such as the lower back.
7. Get Little Sleep
Try as you might, you just can't stay asleep, right? You pass out before "60 Minutes" is over, but then wake up around midnight and count sheep until the alarm goes off. If that sounds like you, you aren't alone. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5842a2.htm" target="_hplink">boomers report not getting enough sleep between one and 13 nights each month</a>. Is it life-threatening? In itself, no. But as soon as you slip behind the wheel bleary-eyed, you are putting yourself and others at risk. Your reflexes are slower, you pay less attention and you could become one of the more than 100,000 Americans who fall asleep at the wheel and crash each year. And the <a href="http://drowsydriving.org/about/facts-and-stats/" target="_hplink">National Highway Traffic Safety Administration</a> says that's a conservative estimate, by the way. Driver fatigue results in an estimated 1,550 deaths, 71,000 injuries and $12.5 billion in monetary losses.
8. Avoid Exercise
AARP says the minimum you need to stay healthy are muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week, plus 2.5 hours a week of moderate activity like walking or 75 minutes a week of a more intense activity like jogging. Exercise is also good for your memory: Just one year of <a href="http://www.aarp.org/health/brain-health/info-02-2011/keep_your_memory_strong_by_walking.html" target="_hplink">walking three times a week can increase the size of the hippocampus</a>, the part of the brain that's key to memory.
9. Carry The World's Burdens On Your Shoulders
We're talking about stress with a capital S. Boomers are the sandwich generation, caught in the middle of caring for our parents and our children. We were deeply affected by the recession and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ann-brenoff/midlife-crisis-depression-is-ok-the-new-good_b_1470958.html" target="_hplink">boomers have the highest rates of depression</a> by age demographic. Unless we unload, we are going to implode.
10. Carry A Beer Belly And A Caboose
It isn't just our extra weight; it's where we carry it. An excess of visceral fat causes our abdomens to protrude excessively. We call it a "pot belly" or "beer belly" or if the visceral fat is on our hips and buttocks, we say we are "apple shaped." Cute names aside, scientists now say that body fat, instead of body weight, is the key to evaluating obesity. And guess what? It's all bad.
11. Continue To Smoke
<a href="http://www.gallup.com/poll/128183/smoking-age-baby-boomer-bulge.aspx" target="_hplink">Gallup found that baby boomers between the ages of 44 and 54 reported higher levels of smoking</a> than those immediately younger or those who are older. Hard to imagine that they haven't gotten the word yet about the risks cigarettes carry.