Thirst is a signal from our bodies that it needs hydration. We receive these signals all day long and everyone has their own preference as to what will quench their thirst most effectively. We all know that we should drink water to replenish our bodies, but we don’t always pick what’s best for us.
There are a lot of great reasons to drink plenty of water each day. As a fitness professional, I’ve known these benefits for years. Unfortunately, that knowledge did little to motivate me to actually follow through and drink an adequate amount of water. While working in corporate America I certainly drank plenty of coffee and tea, but despite knowing better, I just couldn’t force myself to drink as much as I knew I should.
According to Web MD, the top 6 reasons for drinking lots of water are:
1. Drinking Water Helps Maintain the Balance of Body Fluids
2. Water Can Help Control Calories
3. Water Helps Energize Muscles.
4. Water Helps Keep Skin Looking Good
5. Water Helps Your Kidneys
6. Water Helps Maintain Normal Bowel Function
The rule of thumb for years was to drink 64 ounces a day. We were all told that breaking this down to 8 glasses of 8 ounces of water was an easy way to achieve this. More recently the following formula has become more widely accepted:
The basic equation for determining this is by dividing your body weight in half. So, if you weigh 200 pounds, you would need 100 ounces of water per day if you’re not doing anything strenuous. If you’re working out, hiking, at a high altitude or outdoors a great deal, you’re going to need to add to those 100 ounces. – The Truth About How Much Water You Should Drink, Yuri Elkaim, US News
Despite all this information, I still skimped on my water intake. In March of 2011, personal experience and observation stepped in. My step-father called me at work to tell me my mother was having problems answering questions. After rushing to their house I walked into what can only be called a nightmare.
My mother was in bed, now making better sense, but unable to sit up. My step-father was in the living room, obviously having soiled himself and unable to get up off the couch. I called 911 and once the medics arrived, it was quickly decided to ambulance both of them to the hospital. After the doctors evaluated them it was determined that my step-father was dehydrated and under-nourished and my mother had probably had a minor stroke and had a fracture in her spine. In trying to piece together what had happened, we found out that the week before my mother had tried to help my step-father up after he’d fallen and had broken her back in the process. Because she was unable to move around neither of them had had enough to eat or drink for that entire week.
My step-father and I had never been close so I didn’t feel as driven to spend time with him while they were both in the hospital. Right or wrong, I spent most of my time in my mother’s room. Because of this I can’t speak as knowledgeably about his recovery, but what I observed happening to my mother was mind boggling. While treating her other issues, the hospital staff also insisted that my mother drink at least a pitcher of water each day. As she drank more water and became more hydrated, the more lucid she became. She was beginning to understand and discuss things she had been incapable of comprehending for the months leading up to the day that everything fell apart for her.
Dehydration is a condition that occurs when the loss of body fluids, mostly water, exceeds the amount that is taken in. With dehydration, more water is moving out of our cells and bodies than what we take in through drinking. Symptoms of dehydration:
• Increased thirst
• Dry mouth and swollen tongue
• Palpitations (feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding)
• Sluggishness fainting
• Inability to sweat
• Decreased urine output
Unfortunately, the events of that day catapulted my parents into years of life changes. My step-father was moved to an extended care facility where he eventually passed away at the age of 89. My mother was talked into selling her home and moved into a Senior Living apartment complex. She still mourns the loss of her home and her independence.
I wish I could say that the lesson of the risks of dehydration had reformed her and Mom had started drinking adequate amounts of water each day. However, that would be a lie. There have been many hospital visits and health issues that might have been avoided if she had stayed adequately hydrated. There were many days where I knew her confusion could be attributed to lack of hydration. Pointing this out to her usually resulted in anger and hostility (which can also be placed on dehydrations score sheet.)
After a renal stent and a pacemaker were both inserted in her tiny body in the last few months she is finally beginning to connect a lack of fluid with not feeling “right.” She has a caregiver in her apartment 15 hours a day and for the first time Mom is listening to suggestions that she should drink more water. It’s been a frustrating three year journey but I am grateful she is finally connecting the dots.
In people over age 50, the body’s thirst sensation diminishes and continues diminishing with age. – Wikipedia
Mild dehydration also has been shown to negatively impact people’s moods. Experiments by the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service have shown that dehydration is associated with confusion, fatigue, and negative moods. – “Dehydration Affects Mood, Not Just Motor Skills / November 23, 2009 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service
In almost every class I teach I preach the benefits of hydration. Much to my mother’s embarrassment I use her experiences as examples of why drinking water is essential. I am pretty sure my regular students could tell you most of this story without much effort.
The other day I randomly asked if anyone in my yoga class was working on their balance more as a result of my lectures on balance. I got a few sheepish shrugs. Then I asked if anyone was drinking more water as a result of my lectures. I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when the vast majority of the class raised their hands. Tears literally sprang to my eyes and I struggled to resume the class.
I can’t do anything to un-do the damage the dehydration has done to my mother’s body and mind. But I will know I have had an impact on someone’s life if just one person drinks more water as a result of her story. Please, be that one person.
**photo by Chris Reis