First, why is it important to drink enough water on a daily basis?
Water is the PRIMARY source of ALL LIFE – essential for growth, health and survival. As humans, we are made up of between 60-80% water. Water makes up approximately 83% of our lungs, 79% of our muscles and kidneys, 73% of our brain & heart, 64% of our skin, and 31% of our bones. It goes without saying that proper hydration is vital for our health and to keep our organs functioning at their best.
What happens when the body is dehydrated?
Improper hydration leads to dehydration. When our body is dehydrated, all of our essential bodily functions are affected negatively. It’s important to know that even minor dehydration can affect our physical and mental performance. This may cause fatigue, confusion, anxiety, and can also negatively impact our focus, alertness and short-term memory.
Minor dehydration over an extended period of time is referred to as ‘chronic dehydration’ – it can actually result in a range of complications, such as kidney stones, constipation, exercise induced asthma and urinary tract infections. In extreme circumstances, severe dehydration can lead to dizziness, collapse, brain swelling, kidney failure and even seizures.
Understanding the signs of dehydration can assist us in maintaining good hydration. Some signs indicating that we need to be drinking more water include tiredness, irritability, headaches, light headedness, loss of appetite, fainting, dark urine (urine should be clear or pale), and obviously thirst!
Keep in mind that these signs may also be markers for other conditions, however, rectifying your hydration may be a good place to start. All in all, it is critical to reach sufficient daily water requirements to ensure proper hydration for optimal function and to avoid a range of complications.
How much water should we be drinking?
According to the Australian guidelines, it is recommended that on a daily basis, adult males should drink 2.6L (10 cups) of water, adult women should drink 2.1L (8 cups) of water and that children should drink between 1-2L (4-8 cups) of water.
However, it is important to understand that these figures are only a general recommendation as the actual daily required amounts for individuals can vary depending on a range of factors including age, activity levels, individual metabolism, temperature, food consumption as well as confounding medical conditions.
Despite these recommendations, 80% of Australians are currently living in a chronic state of dehydration, consuming only 5.5 cups of water a day!
The main functions of water
Water is an essential component in every cell, tissue and organ, as all the body’s chemical processes occur in water.
From the moment we consume food, water is present in our digestive juices, which is required to breakdown food, absorbing nutrients while flushing out wastes and toxins through the digestive system with smooth bowel movements. After nutrients are absorbed into the circulatory system, the blood – which is predominantly made up of water – transports nutrients, as well as oxygen from the lungs through to every cell in the body. Within cells, the metabolism of oxygen and nutrients into energy sources and other important products occurs in the cells cytoplasm – also predominantly made up of water. The production of energy and other important products are crucial for cell growth and reproduction.
To ensure optimal conditions during these important processes, temperature is regulated by releasing water through sweat to cool the body. Water also plays a protective role in the body by creating external defence barriers on external surfaces (e.g. eyes, nose, mouth etc.), fighting off illnesses and preventing infections.
To add, proper hydration has been linked to a number of additional benefits including boosting energy levels, maximising physical performance, improving strength, power, endurance, cognitive function, mood and sleep quality.
Importance of hydration for spinal health
Good hydration is also vital for optimal spinal health, as our spines heavily depend on hydration. Not only does water make up 31% of our bones, but it plays an essential component in lubricating and cushioning of all of our joints.
Spinal discs that are found throughout the spine are made up of two components. The first component is a central, soft, gelatinous substance that is predominantly composed of water – called the nucleus pulposis. The second is a stronger fibrous outer ring – called the annulus fibrosis which surrounds the nucleus pulposis. Together, these spinal discs separate individual interlocking spinal bones – known as vertebrae – and provide mobility, cushioning and shock absorption to the spine.
From the second we get up out of bed in the morning to an upright position, gravity creates pressure which goes through our spines and our spinal discs. As the day goes on, all of our movements – including supposedly ‘effortless’ activities such as standing, sitting or walking – create pressure within the spine which is absorbed by our discs. The absorption of pressure through the spine causes our discs to be compressed which leads to the water within our discs being squeezed out bit by bit. Normally, this does not cause issues as gravity draws water down our spines allowing constant rehydration of our spinal discs.
Effects of dehydration on the spine
Dehydration can compromise our body’s ability to rehydrate our spinal discs which results in complications that may include premature degeneration of our spine.
As water is lost from our spinal discs, the cushioning effect of the nucleus pulposis is compromised and pressure is transferred to the fibrous outer ring – which is not designed to carry such a heavy load. Over time, this can even transfer pressure to nerves exiting the spinal column between spinal bones. This may result in limited mobility, limited flexibility and can cause pain throughout the body – including general back pain. Prolonged low level dehydration in combination with excess wear and tear of dehydrated discs can even cause disc herniations which leads to a myriad of awful symptoms.
Additionally, water is a critical component of our ‘cerebrospinal fluid’. Cerebrospinal fluid is a clear fluid which cushions our brain and spinal cord within our nervous system, also allowing for the transport of nutrients and wastes to and from the nervous system. Optimal function and movement of the cerebrospinal fluid within our nervous system is dependent on proper hydration. Dehydration can actually negatively impact cognition, reflexes and overall optimal brain function.
Easy tips to stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is EASY as water is almost always free and is virtually everywhere. Below we have listed a few tips and tricks to stay hydrated, for us to develop more healthy habits!
1. Avoid waiting until you are thirsty to drink water
By the time we feel thirsty, we are already slightly dehydrated.
2. Carry a water bottle everywhere
By carrying a water bottle everywhere – preferably reusable – you have access to water everywhere you go!
3. Multiple daily reminders
Depending on your unique schedule, set reminders on your phone to drink set amounts of water throughout the day to incrementally reach your unique daily water intake.
4. Flavour your water
Some people that may not like the taste of water alone may wish to add slices of lemon, lime or orange, may infuse water with other fresh fruits (e.g. berries or pineapple) or vegetables (e.g. cucumber) and may even choose to use mint leaves or other herbs (e.g basil or rosemary). Others may simply choose to drink sparkling water.
5. Eat water-rich fruit and vegetables
Around 20% of out daily water intake is obtained from food, so eating delicious water rich foods will help you stay hydrated.
6. Have a beverage – particularly water – with every snack and meal
This one’s easy! Especially if you have your water bottle.
7. Be aware of the weather
It is important to know that warmer conditions require us to consume more water.
The bottom line is that we should be drinking enough water on a daily basis! Staying hydrated is easy and can have dramatic positive impact on how we feel and function.