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11/21/2013 07:16 am ET Updated Nov 21, 2013

7 Surprising Dos And Don'ts For Drinking Water

Grandparents.com

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.

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