Here at La Crisalida Retreats, we talk a lot about juices. However, water is even more important for our health and wellbeing, so in this article we look at how we can maintain our hydration and why we need to drink more water!
As adults, our bodies consist of around 60% water (it was even higher when we were young children). At every moment of the day our bodies are working to maintain a balance of vitamins, minerals, sugars, salts and fats to keep our body functioning in peak form. Whenever we eat, or miss a meal, tiny actions and adjustments take place in the body to equalise or reset this balance. The same happens when we drink, or forgo a drink, or when we exercise. It´s water that helps to find and maintain this balance. Water helps us to regulate our temperature and also to carry oxygen in our cells to the organs (including our brains).
How much water should I drink each day?
Drinking water is the best and most effective way of maintaining the hydration (water level) in your body. Most of us are fortunate to be able to drink water straight from the tap, although sometimes we might need to purchase bottled water or filter it first. How much water you should drink each day depends upon, to some extent, where you live in the world (the hotter the environment the more water you should drink), how much exercise you do (the more exercise you do, the more water you need to drink) and your body size. Here in Spain, we encourage guests to drink between 3 and 5 litres of water each day – this is particularly important if you exercise, are out and about in the sun (walking etc) or if you do a lot of sunbathing (a lot of which happens at the retreat on a daily basis!). At home, you might want to drink a little less, depending upon what you day consists of.
One easy way to keep track of how much water you are drinking each day is to purchase a water bottle that you can take with you wherever you work, sleep, travel, exercise or rest. You can then refill the bottle once it is empty. If you have a 500ml bottle, you know you need to drink 6 bottles each day to consume 3 litres of water.
Adding lemon to your water gives you a nice antioxidant boost and can add a little flavour and variety.
What are the other sources of hydration for the body?
There are many other sources of hydration for our bodies, in addition to drinking water:
- Herbal teas
Boiling or hot water with a herbal infusion is another great source of hydration and counts in your water daily intake.
- Eating fruits and veggies
Many fruits and vegetables are also good sources of water – think about the water content of watermelon (90% water), or cucumber (more than 90%) in particular. Lettuce and celery are also high in water. Eating them fresh (as close to harvest as possible) and raw brings maximum hydration. You also get a boost of vitamins and minerals! It´s estimated that around 20% of our daily water intake could come from fruit and veggies, if you consume the recommended daily amount (five a day or more).
- Immersing your body in water
Swimming or taking a bath can help to hydrate your body through the skin. Our skin is the largest body organ so immersing it in water for a period of time really allows our whole body to hydrate, from the outside, in. That’s one reason why we love aqua aerobics in the summer!
- Coconut water or non-dairy milks
Natural versions are best for your body nutritionally, so try to avoid versions with added sugars or salts.
Things to avoid or keep to a minimum
Many authors suggest that tea (black tea as opposed to herbal tea) and coffee can act as diuretics (which means they take water out of the body), so if you drink tea or coffee you need to remember to add in another glass of water!
- Fizzy drinks
Carbonated drinks, like cola, lemonade and other “sodas” often contain caffeine or extra sugars.
All forms of alcohol dehydrate the body and leave our cells needing more water.
What is dehydration?
Dehydration is where you are taking in less fluids than you are losing or using – basically your body does not have enough water. This upsets the internal balance of minerals – particularly sugars and salts – which affects the way your body works. Many people are a little dehydrated some of the time, but if you fail to top up the water content in your body, the symptoms and effect of dehydration on your body can become increasingly severe, and maybe (for severe cases) organ failure and death.
What are the signs of dehydration?
There are a number of signs of dehydration that you can watch out for this summer:
Any time you feel thirsty, stop and take a drink.
- Dry lips
When you are fully hydrated your lips are moist and soft. Often dry lips can be the first sign of dehydration. If your lips start to crack then drink and hydrate your body!
- Dark coloured urine and less peeing
As your body starts to dehydrate, it does what it can to start to conserve water, so your urine starts to become darker – this means the minerals are more concentrated. A well hydrated body produces almost clear or pale yellow urine. You might also start to notice that you need to visit the toilet less frequently.
- Fatigue, tiredness and cloudy thinking
Sometimes, when the body has insufficient water, you can feel tired or your thinking becomes cloudy. Before reaching for a cup of coffee, top up with water instead and see if that helps.
Sometimes we can feel hungry, and think that we need to eat. Before you reach out for food, stop for a moment and think about when you last drank water. Maybe it´s time to drink water first. Give yourself 20 or 30 minutes after drinking and see how you feel then. (Please note, we do not recommend water fasting, i.e. do not replace your meals with water!).
If you start to develop a headache, reach for a glass of water. If you have been sunbathing, you might also need to come out of the sun for a while! Give your body chance to absorb the water and rehydrate.
One sign that your body is short on water is constipation. Here there is insufficient water in the bowel to form stools that can move, again the body is trying to conserve water.
- Nausea and dizziness
If you are sunbathing or exercising and start to feel nauseous or dizzy then come out of the sun, sit down and drink water.
Remember, some of these signs or symptoms might be due to other factors or illnesses, not lack of water and if you have concerns we strongly suggest that you speak to your doctor or medical practitioner.
Scientific studies have shown that dehydration can affect cognition (remembering, learning or using knowledge). It can also affect mood. So keep your water level topped up!
How do we lose water from the body?
The most obvious ways of losing water from your body is by peeing and sweating. In hot countries you might not notice that you are losing water from your body through sweating. Exercise also uses up water, so if you exercise remember to top up with water – its best to drink a few hours before you exercise and to also drink water as you exercise (if possible) – sips rather than big gulps!
What does water do during a detox?
One of the functions of water in our bodies is to flush out waste – any products that the body does not need. Our kidneys are an important part of the process of getting rid of waste products – the kidneys filter the blood and turns the waste into urine, which is then released from the body. This is an amazing filter system – too little water in the body and healthy kidneys get rid of excess salts etc (and holds onto the water); too much water and the kidneys get rid of excess water.
When you change your diet to remove caffeine and alcohol, and instead eat lots of healthy plant-based foods, you give your body lots of vitamins and minerals and stop adding toxins. Maintaining a good intake of water (or maybe increasing the amount you drink) during this process means that your kidneys can continue to work effectively, flushing through your whole system. At the same time, your liver has more time to work on metabolizing fats more efficiently, which can help to contribute to weight loss.
Some common questions and answers about water
We hear many questions about drinking water – people wonder what is “good” or “bad”:
- Should I drink water with a meal?
There are lots of articles on both sides of the argument of whether you should or should not drink water whilst eating your meal. Some authors argue that you should not drink 30 minutes before eating or for up to an hour afterwards – because the water will dilute the digestive enzymes and tummy acid (you need tummy acid to digest food). Other authors suggest that sipping water with your meal is okay. Remember, drinking water can help you to feel full (so it helps to stop you overeating) as well as lubricating the bowel and helping to prevent constipation. There´s not a great deal of solid scientific research to support one argument or the other. As with anything, we suggest that you see what feels right for you.
- Is drinking ice cold water bad for me?
Some authors suggest that it is better to drink room temperature water, rather than ice cold water. They say this is because the body is better able to absorb room temperature water. There is some research showing that drinking ice cold water during exercise helps to reduce core temperature more effectively (and for a longer period) than room temperature water. As with anything, listen to your body. Decide what feels right for you, according to what you are doing and the environment you are in.
- Bottled water – good or bad?
Another divisive question! There are lots of bottled “waters” on the market nowadays, some claiming to be better for health. Check what you are purchasing – is it filtered (and how), anything added (and why), what´s removed? And then maybe also consider the environment – what do you do with the bottle once it is empty? Recycle not landfill!
- Fizzy water – good for health or not?
Adding bubbles to your water can change the whole experience of drinking and is a good alternative to still water. The main side effect might be belching. Again, some people say its not good and others say it is good. If it comes down to a choice of fizzy water or a soda pop then choose the fizzy water. But maybe make sure you drink some still water too – find a balance that works for you.
- What about “electrolyte water” or sports drinks?
Increasingly available in shops now, are special waters or sports drinks, with added electrolytes. Electrolytes are nutrients (like calcium, magnesium, potassium and phosphate) which used by the body to keep it functioning healthily. Sometimes, when you sweat (maybe during exercise or in hot climates) the body also loses (uses) these important minerals. If you eat a balanced healthy diet you should get sufficient electrolytes through your diet, however these drinks might have a place if you feel out of balance or if you have just exercised energetically for more than 60 minutes – as we said at the start of the article, water plays an important role in balancing the nutrients in the body and too little water (or too much) can upset this internal balance. The same applies for extra salts or nutrients. Remember, sports drinks or water with added electrolytes should not replace a balanced nutritious diet.
So, as the summer heat continues, remember to keep hydrated to maintain tiptop health!
About the author
- Lisa is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. She is an Epidemiologist, therapeutic hatha and yin yoga teacher and also teaches mindfulness meditation. Lisa has studied NLP and hypnosis, as well as nutrition (she designs the menus).