Humans are a lot like raisins. At birth, our bodies are approximately 78 percent water. Then we start to dry out. Adults are approximately 60 percent water, and seniors hover at around 50 percent water.
Even so, most of us are a lot drier than we should be. Up to 75 percent of North Americans are chronically dehydrated, and dehydration is a common reason why American seniors are hospitalized.
“Hydration is vital to every organ and cell in the body,” says Dr. Holly Fennell, a naturopathic doctor.
Many people don’t take that to heart. But proper hydration becomes a lot harder to ignore once you realize exactly what water does for you.
Sip your way to strong muscles
“People are amazed to learn that lean muscle contains over 70 percent water,” says Fennell. “If you aren’t properly hydrated, your muscles are more prone
Water keeps your muscles firing at full speed and carries out the metabolic waste generated when you’re working out. Being properly hydrated is so important, athletic performance immediately plummets if you sweat out just 1 to 2 percent of your body weight and don’t replenish it.
“Start hydrating the day before a big workout,” advises Fennell. “Many people start drinking when they start exercising. This doesn’t allow the water to be properly absorbed.”
Once you’re exercising, drink cold water. Research shows cold water improves both endurance and performance gains compared to room temperature water.
Send fluids to your frontal lobe
“The human brain is composed of over 70 percent water,” says Fennell. When we’re feeling thirsty for knowledge, sipping water ensures the brain gets all the nutrients it needs.
Water may be all that’s between you and your next breakthrough. Studies show that a well-hydrated brain experiences more creativity and increased focus. It can help you think faster, and scientists even hypothesize that hydration levels affect mood.
Drown out sickness
The 600 lymph nodes and extensive network of lymph vessels throughout your body keep you from getting sick by transporting immune cells and flushing out dead bacteria. Water maintains the lymphatic system and is a major element in your lymph fluid. (All the more reason to heed the advice to drink plenty of fluids when feeling ill!)
Drinking water is also the best way to keep your mucus membranes hydrated. When they’re dry, these membranes—which line organs and canals like the mouth, nose, intestines, and lungs—are more susceptible to viral infections.
Moisten your metabolism
Drinking fluids keeps food flowing smoothly through the digestive system and flushes out waste. If you’re feeling plugged up, not drinking enough water is the most common cause.
“Weight loss can also be impacted by hydration,” adds Fennell. You burn 2 percent fewer calories per day when you’re dehydrated, and Fennell notes that water helps the body burn fat better. In one study, drinking an extra 2 cups of water three times a day helped overweight adults drop the pounds and improve their body mass index and body composition scores.
Thicken your skin (LITERALLY!)
Your skin is 64 percent water, so it isn’t surprising that research shows staying hydrateds improves skin thickness and density and boosts skin moisture.
Unfortunately, most beauty tips about staying hydrated are a little overblown.
In a meta-review of dozens of studies, researchers noted that the hydration-and-beauty link is “one of the more pervasive myths” out there. There’s no truth to the claim that drinking water will smooth your skin or cure any skin problems you have. And while dry, dehydrated skin is more prone to damage and wrinkles, the researchers warn that drinking water doesn’t do much.
Instead, your thirsty skin craves moisture applied topically. Smooth on natural lotion as soon as you finish bathing, and consider skin creams containing hyaluronic acid. This ingredient attracts moisture to your skin and locks it in—and yes, vegan versions of hyaluronic acid are available.*
Lubricate your joints
Bones are 31 percent water, and the cartilage between joints is 60 to 85 percent water. When you don’t drink enough water, that cartilage can’t properly protect your joints from friction and wear and tear.
“People are surprised to learn that joint health can be related to hydration,” says Fennell. “The synovial fluid that bathes our joints contains water and is negatively affected by decreased hydration.”
Try sipping tea. The Arthritis Foundation reports that no other drink has been more well researched when it comes to joint benefits. Take your pick from green, white, or black tea. They all provide polyphenols that soothe joint inflammation while simultaneously hydrating creaky joints.
“Sea” clearly now
Your eyes are made up of mostly fluids and water, and a water glass should go hand in hand with eyeglasses. Numerous studies have linked dehydration with dry eye syndrome, cataracts, and other common eye-related conditions and diseases.
Show your eyes some love by drinking a hydrating juice made from fresh-pressed produce like kale, pink grapefruit, carrots, oranges, and berries. This concoction is rich in bioflavonoids, vitamin C, and carotenoids that keep eyes healthy.
Raise your holistic shield
Every system inside you is intricately linked. As you hydrate each part of your body, you’ll boost your overall well-being. Evidence suggests hydration plays a role in reducing the risks of a shockingly varied range of health concerns, including exercise asthma, hyperglycemia, urinary tract infections, heart disease, some forms of cancer, and more.
As scientists uncover more and more reasons why water is the most vital nutrient for the human body, you have more and more reasons to grab a glass and drink up.
Hydration that works harder
While water should be your go-to hydration agent, all fluids help hydrate you. Plus, new research shows combining water with macronutrients like fat and protein and micronutrients like vitamins and minerals can increase your body’s ability to retain the water—aka stay hydrated for longer!
With that in mind, give these bevvies a spin:
- plant-based protein shakes (for the added protein, obvs)
- MCT oil-enhanced drinks (for the healthy fat)
- greens powders (for the blend of vitamins and minerals)
One of the hottest beverage trends of 2020 is better-for-you sparkling beverages, and effervescent vitamin and mineral supplements are the healthiest option you’ll find. They turn a regular glass of water into a fizzy nutrient top-up. If you love the bubbles in sparkling water (who doesn’t?), you’ll probably enjoy this supplement delivery format.
These drinkable supplements are often more hydrating than water thanks to the inclusion of electrolytes, which are minerals (like sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium) that balance your body’s water content, pH level, and more. Replacing electrolytes is vital whenever you sweat a lot—during intense exercise or in hot environments, for example. Sounds like summer to us!
These mixes are also a great way to get certain vitamins that target specific health needs. For example, oral vitamin C—including in effervescent form—supports immune and skin health.
Purifying your water
Some scientists think government standards for water purity are too lax. When you’re buying a water purification system, check the following.
Make sure it’s designed to take out the specific contaminant you’re worried about. An ANSI, NSF, CSA, UL, or WQA certification seal means the system can actually do what it claims.
Choose from six types of installation:
- faucet mounted
- integrated into your faucet
- under sink
- whole house
Pick your technology. Three of the most common are steam distillation, carbon filters, and reverse-osmosis filters. Steam distillation generally results in the purest drinking water, free of inorganic compounds and bacteria (note that minerals are also removed, though this shouldn’t be a major concern if you’re eating a balanced diet). Carbon filters are pocketbook-friendly, while reverse-osmosis filters are pricier but more thorough.
Trading the ‘bikini body’ for body posi
Bodies of all shapes, sizes, and abilities are worthy of love, care, and celebration—and that celebration is getting louder. These four Insta accounts are at the crest of the new wave of body-posi images and attitudes.
@bodyposipanda: Speaker, activist, and author Megan Jayne Crabbe is dedicated to self-care and empowerment. Her quotes and imagery are served with refreshing realness and a side of sass.
@tatyanamcfaddenusa: Tatyana McFadden’s bio reads: “In a wheelchair but who cares.” A 17-time Paralympic medalist, she casually and kindly breaks down misconceptions about abilities and limitations.
@julesvonhep: Podcast host and celebrity spray-tan artist Jules Von Hep joined the body-posi movement after hearing people constantly apologize for their bodies. His dancing videos and good vibes never fail to inspire.
@sarahsapora: Kundalini yoga and meditation teacher Sarah Sapora is a beacon of positivity. She’s on a wellness mission that’s inclusive of women of all sizes, and her feed is passionate and liberating.
– Laura Sugden
This article was originally published in the May/June 2020 issue of alive US, under the title “Are You Hydrated?“