January Health Challenge: Optimal Hydration

HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope your 2018 is off to a fabulous start! 

This year I have decided to suggest monthly "health challenges," as sometimes the smallest changes can lead to profound health benefits. Also, it's often difficult to make a bunch of changes all at once, so focusing on just one health habit a month can be more manageable. Some of the challenges will be very simple and foundational, others more involved. I will participate in the challenges that I propose and I invite you to join me in whatever grabs your interest. Just commit to trying it for a full month and see how you feel! Who knows, perhaps you will pick up a more long-term health habit or two along the way this year.

For January I have decided to focus on optimal hydration, as it is one of the most foundational health changes that someone can make. In the USA, many of us are not drinking enough water.  And often water intake is replaced with soda and juice, leading to suboptimal hydration (not to mention excessive sugar intake!), for a large percentage of the population. For me, although I am (usually) pretty good about drinking enough water when I am in my normal routine, I definitely find that that can go by the wayside during the colder winter months and while I am traveling. During the winter, I often get around this by opting for drinking warm water or herbal tea to get my water in. While traveling, the change in routine and excitement of new adventures can lead to me forgetting to drink enough water. Since I am starting the New Year with a  week in Mexico, I thought this would be a great way to challenge myself to prioritize hydration, even with changes to my normal routine. What challenges do you face to drinking enough water?  Read on to learn more about how much water you should be drinking, as well as the benefits of staying well hydrated. I would love if you join me in prioritizing optimal hydration this month!

How Much Water Should You Be Drinking

There are a few different guidelines on how much water is optimal and, as with many things, I find that an individualized approach is best. I find that the "8 glasses of water a day" recommendation is a little limiting, as it does not take into account a person's weight and activity level, as well as other important factors. Some people may need fewer than 8 glasses, some people more.  I prefer determining optimal water intake based on one's body weight, then taking into consideration other variables after that. A helpful starting guideline is to drink one half of your body weight (in lb), in ounces. So, for example, for a 150 lb person, that would be 75 oz of water. 

Starting with the body weight recommendation as a base, other considerations can further impact water intake needs.  If you live in a hot and humid climate, more water will likely be needed to replace water lost through sweat. Also, before, during and after an intense workout, additional water should be drunk to replace what is lost though sweat, ideally with some electrolytes to make sure those are also being replaced. Some illnesses, such as diarrhea and fever increase water intake needs. And of course, listening to how thirsty you feel is a huge part of making sure you are well hydrated - and opting for water rather than sugary drinks (ex. soda and juice) to quench your thirst.

There are limitations to the body weight guideline, that should be noted. For example, for people with a higher body fat percentage, following this guideline can lead to too much water intake, and place stress on the cardiovascular system.  Forcing yourself to drink huge amounts of water in a short period of time can lead to a dangerous, albeit rare, condition called hyponatremia. A better approach would be to have frequent smaller glasses or sipping throughout the day. Lastly, anyone with a health condition that requires fluid restriction, should always follow their physician's recommendations for fluid intake.

How do you know if you are drinking enough water?

If you rarely feel thirsty and your urine is pale or clear at least a few times a day, you are likely drinking enough water (NOTE: if you take a B-vitamin, this will result in artificially bright yellow urine. This is normal.). Also, for people who are drinking enough water, it is normal to urinate about every 1-2 hours. If you are not urinating that often, it is possible that you are dehydrated.

Health Benefits of Optimal Hydration

  • Helps flush out toxins through your bowel, kidney and sweat
  • Improves energy (dehydration can contribute to fatigue!)
  • Improves skin complexion - helps to keep skin clear and smooth
  • Helps prevent kidney stones
  • Helps to prevent constipation
  • Helps to prevent headaches, which can be caused by dehydration
  • Lubricates your joints
  • Helps prevent muscle cramps

Tips for Increasing Water Intake

  • Start the day with a warm 8-16oz glass of water with lemon juice. As an added bonus, this kick starts your digestion and liver function.
  • If you want to add some more excitement to your water, think about infusing it with slices of apple, cucumber, orange, lime, lemon, grapes, or mint leaves.
  • Get a reusable water bottle and carry it around with you, so you remember to sip throughout the day. Bonus: this is much better for the environment than drinking from plastic water bottles, not to mention you avoid the harmful substances leached out of the plastic  
  • Save money, in the long term, on drinking clean water, by investing in a good water filter. My favorites are Berkey and Multipure.


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