To maintain a healthy mind and body, it’s important to ensure that we consume sufficient vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients. But one of the most important elements of our well-being is often overlooked despite its unique benefits for your health, water.
Naturally, we all take in water every day—whether on its own or as part of coffee, soda, juice, another drink, or food. If we didn’t, we would expire in just a few days. Yet it’s not a simple case of consuming enough to keep our body alive.
Our constitution is generally around 60 percent water. All of the major organs, tissues, and bones contain this compound—meaning it’s essential for health.
Consider this article as your Water 101. It brings you all the positive effects consuming sufficient water brings together with guidance on how much you should be drinking each day and some handy tips on ensuring your water balance is always in top form.
The health benefits listed below can only be achieved by drinking adequate amounts of water. However, the amount of water you should drink is a highly debated topic.
Many governmental health authorities recommend using the eight/eight water rule. Meaning, eight glasses of eight ounces per day. It’s easy to remember and will provide around a half a gallon (1.8 liters) of water.
This is generally considered sufficient for the average person leading a reasonably active lifestyle. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as an average person and the eight/eight rule is based on little scientific fact.
The truth is we are all different. Our water requirements vary from day to day and are dependent on age, sex, activity level, health, alcohol consumption, and food intake. With this number of variables, it’s difficult to ascertain exactly how much water you should consume daily.
Therefore, the eight/eight rule is just a guide. If you lead a relatively sedentary life, you can probably consume slightly less than this. However, if you’re completing high-intensity exercise every day, you will need to consume more. For more on recovery, take a look here
Remember, if you do wish to follow this guide, other drinks such as tea, coffee, and caffeinated sodas can be included in your count. Previously,these drinks were considered diuretics, so they should be discounted. However, research has shown that they actually have a very small diuretic effect.
One quick word of warning: alcohol shouldn’t be considered part of your daily water intake. As you will discover later, these drinks do indeed promote water loss.
In addition to the eight/eight rule, consider these factors when taking control of your hydration levels.
Water, in some form or another, is used in every chemical reaction and process in our bodies. Hence, an exhaustive list of all the health benefits would run into the thousands.
Instead, I have concentrated on the most impressive, and sometimes surprising, advantages that keeping hydrated provides.
At some time, we have all suffered from constipation. It’s uncomfortable, annoying, and can often prove painful. What’s more, if not attended to, it can lead to an impacted colon, which may be fatal.
In cases of constipation, it’s tempting to simply reach for a bottle of laxatives to solve the issue. Yet this only treats the symptom not the cause.
Often, constipation is a result of not being sufficiently hydrated. If you haven’t been consuming enough water, the body takes every available opportunity to increase its own stores—including stealing it from food.
In a state of dehydration, the colon will attempt to extract water from anything you have consumed, leaving behind a hard remnant—what will eventually become your stool. With little water content, it’s now dry and unmalleable, making it difficult to not only pass through the colon but also the bowel. The result: constipation.
Furthermore, saliva (which we will look at in more detail shortly) is the first stage of digestion. It begins by breaking down the food to create a form which can then be easily processed by the colon. Insufficient hydration means less saliva and therefore an increased workload for the rest of your body.
So to remain regular, drink water. It’s undoubtedly preferable to taking medication to relieve the issue.
Just a quick word of advice. Constipation can also be a symptom of a more serious underlying problem. If you’re suffering from this ailment frequently, consult with a medical practitioner.
I know many people who actively reduce their water intake when trying to lose weight—this can be a big mistake.
Their theory is that any excess water consumed will be retained and therefore lead to weight gain. Yet in most circumstances, that’s a fallacy.
It’s true that menstruation or certain ailments, such as kidney disease and heart issues, can lead to excessive water retention. But these are the results of other issues—not drinking too much water.
The fact is water can actually promote weight loss. Here’s how.
Research has indicated that consuming water along with your meals increases the feeling of satiety. This means that you’re less likely to eat a large portion, return for seconds, or have a dessert.
This can reduce the intake of unnecessary calories that lead to weight gain.
Drinking water has shown to increase thermogenesis—the raising of internal body temperature.
As the body warms up, the metabolic rate is elevated, pushing all its chemical reactions and processes into overdrive. This state requires energy (calories) to fuel the increase in metabolism, which can be found in your fat stores.
One of the main reasons behind weight gain, or the inability to lose weight, is the consumption of calories. If intake exceeds expenditure, you put on the pounds.
While many people actively monitor their food intake, what’s often ignored is the number of calories that drinks provide. For example, a standard can of soda contains around 140 calories, while a large mocha coffee from a well-known chain adds up to 420 calories per cup.
Drinking water as a replacement to sodas and sweet milky coffees can remove a remarkably high number of calories from the diet (water is calorie free). However, if you still need that caffeine hit, opt for a black Americano—made mostly from water with no milk and, therefore, zero calories.
The awful feelings associated with a hangover—headache, upset stomach, and fatigue—are usually the symptoms of one thing: dehydration.
Alcohol makes you lose water—it’s a diuretic. It may appear that you are taking in liquids, but you’re actually losing them. Naturally, the best way to avoid hangovers is not to drink alcohol, but in some circumstances, it’s neither desirable nor practical.
The key to offset the chance of a hangover is to consume plenty of water. There are varying opinions on the optimal way of achieving this.
One of the most popular is to drink a sizeable amount of water—around 16 to 18 ounces—prior to sleep, which should replace any alcohol-induced water loss.
However, my personal favorite is to switch between alcohol and water during drinking periods. That is, after every alcoholic beverage, consume a glass of water. This has two positive effects.
First, it replaces fluids lost due to the diuretic effect of alcohol. Second, it can actually make you drink less, as water makes you feel full.
Kidneys are amazing at detoxifying the body. They collect together all the harmful elements you’ve consumed and expel them before they reach dangerous levels.
The issue is when you don’t consume enough water—you’re putting severe stress on this essential pair of organs.
One of the most serious problems that can occur is kidney stones. These are formations of mineral crystals which clump together, impairing the kidney’s function or inducing pain as they pass down and become lodged in the ureter or urethra.
Consuming sufficient water can prevent kidney stone formation. The more water that passes through the kidneys, the easier the extracted minerals are to flush out—before they can form into stones.
The brain is around 75 percent water. So any type of dehydration rapidly affects its constitution and function.
The positive benefits of consuming water for the brain are numerous, including:
A good way to kick-start the brain every day is to start your morning routine with a glass of water. During sleep, we lose a lot of this element through sweat, internal chemical processes, and breathing.
Replenishing these reserves immediately after waking will give the brain the initial boost it needs to power you through the day.
Whether exercising at home or taking part in competitive sports, remaining hydrated is essential to keep performance at optimum levels.
It’s no surprise that being physically active uses our water stores, especially when pushing hard and therefore losing excessive water through perspiration.
But it’s not just enough to replenish these stores once the exercise has finished. To remain constantly in top form, hydration is required during the physical exertion itself. Even small losses of water (less than two percent of volume) can impair performance. The reason for this is that water is a vital part of many processes involved in physical exertion.
One of the main areas is that of muscle contraction, the act required in every physical exercise (and in daily routines). Water enhances the power of the muscle-building proteins, provides elasticity and strength, transports minerals, provides energy, and supplies the muscle-powering adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
So ensuring that we are sufficiently hydrated means that muscles are working to maximum capacity.
Being dehydrated, however, can seriously reduce our performance output:
We often attribute our headaches to stress, loud noise, or just an aspect of human life that has to be accepted. Usually, it results in us swallowing a couple of painkillers and then trying to get on with our day.
The problem is sometimes, especially in the case of migraines, they can be debilitating and more than a petty annoyance. Yet in many cases, this could simply be caused by not consuming enough water.
There’s evidence that indicates headaches and migraines can be induced by dehydration. What’s even more interesting is the same literature states that consuming water once the pain has started helps to alleviate the symptoms—without the use of medication.
Whether through exercise, age, or disease, we have all experienced the pain of aching or stiff joints. In many of these cases, a lack of water is either the cause or can exacerbate the symptoms.
Cartilage is the connective material that enables your joints to move. About 80 percent of this important tissue is water. Ensuring that adequate amounts of water are consumed improves the elasticity of the cartilage, increases lubrication, and reduces joint pain.
Furthermore, remaining hydrated can prevent the occurrence of gout. With too little water in the body, your uric acid levels rise. This can form crystals in joints, which create sharp, uncomfortable pain. Water dilutes the uric acid, reducing the chance of crystal creation and preventing gout attacks.
Finally, studies have shown that not remaining suitably hydrated can lead to arthritis.
Your mouth is full of water, mostly in the form of saliva. This important fluid is 99.5 percent water, the rest consists of electrolytes, enzymes, and mucus.
Consuming too little water reduces the production and, therefore, power of saliva to maintain a healthy mouth.
Normal human body temperature, or normothermia, is between 97.7 and 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
This level of heat is required to ensure that chemical processes within the body function at optimum levels. If the body becomes too hot, not only will these reactions become less efficient, but it can also lead to hyperthermia.
This is a particularly unpleasant condition which promotes confusion and nausea. It can eventually prove fatal.
Our bodies heat up dramatically through external factors, such as hot climates or exercise. Water helps to cool down the body and keep its temperature within safe levels.
The main way our body does this is through the production of sweat. As it evaporates, the body is cooled through convection. Experts have shown that inadequate hydration reduces the ability of the body to regulate its own temperature.
Here’s a quick video explaining the effects of heat and dehydration on the body.
If you aren’t sufficiently hydrated, it will not be long into your sleep before your mouth and nasal passages dry out, leading to impaired breathing, snoring, and a sore throat. All of which can interfere with a pleasant night’s slumber.
Additionally, many people suffer from leg cramps at night. This condition isn’t just painful, it can keep you awake and leave you feeling tired and lethargic the following day.
Research has indicated that consuming adequate amounts of water can prevent the onset of muscle cramps.
Listen to any beauty commercial on TV, and they will emphasize the importance of moisturizing skin. The irony is that a great deal of the moisture the skin requires can be obtained through dietary intake.
Studies have illustrated that consuming water increases the elasticity of the skin and acts as a lubricant to the upper layers. This reduces friction and can offset the formation of lines and wrinkles.
The eyes are all about water. First, it’s one of the eye’s main constituents, making up 98 percent of the vitreous body.
Second, for comfortable blinking, you need water. Excessive dehydration can lead to dry eye syndrome, which makes the eye feel uncomfortable, gritty, and itchy.
However, this has shown to contribute to eye strain, cataracts, vascular retinal disease, and changes to the refractiveness of the lens.
Furthermore, there’s a cosmetic aspect. Ensuring you are fully hydrated plumps up the eyes and gives them a shiny and healthy appearance—leaving you to look bright and alert.
If you suffer from breathing complications, such as asthma, not consuming enough water can make the symptoms worse.
A recent study indicated that, when dehydrated, the body produces more of the compound histamine. This produces an allergic response within the body, which in turn can then reduce the efficacy of the lungs and lead to breathing issues.
Furthermore, when in an environment where conditions are conducive to the onset of an asthma attack (from pollen, dust, or smoke, for example), dehydration can worsen symptoms.
If you haven’t been consuming enough water, your airway and lungs are dry and lack protective mucus. This means that irritants can become lodged in the body’s breathing apparatus, increasing the asthmatic response.
At certain times of the year, we often supplement with vitamins or other medications to try to prevent the occurrence of flu and the common cold. Yet one of the best ways to keep these illnesses at bay is to drink water. It can enhance the immune system through three important functions.
First, it improves the oxygen and mineral delivery to the body’s cells, feeding them and allowing them to fight off bacteria.
Second, it helps to flush many toxins from the body.
Third, it improves nasal mucus production (90 percent water)—important in trapping any unwanted foreign bugs that are attempting to invade.
As we have seen, the health benefits of water are numerous. Yet still, many people consume too little of this vital fluid each day.
Therefore, I have put together my favorite ways to ensure you remain hydrated—despite having a busy lifestyle.
If you always have cool, fresh water to hand, you’re more likely to drink it. Get hold of a good quality water bottle or cooler that can fit in your handbag or rucksack.
Whether grocery shopping, at the gym, sitting behind your desk, or just taking a walk, you can keep your hydration levels constantly topped up.
Water can be a little bland. Liven it up with a dash of fresh lemon, ginger, or mint to make it more appealing.
You will instantly notice the fresh invigorating taste, and it can help you avoid your usual energy drinks or sodas.
Whether eating at home or out at a restaurant, turn consuming water into a habit. Train yourself to always have a glass next to your dinner or lunch plate.
This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a glass of your favorite wine too—but consume it in conjunction with water. I always find that if a pitcher of water is placed on the table together with some empty glasses, more water is consumed than single-glass servings alone.
There are many excellent free water intake apps that allow you to monitor your hydration.
These clever programs, either on a smartphone or tablet, allow you to set your daily consumption to reward yourself when you achieve your targets. Many also include alarms or reminders to ensure you don’t forget to drink.
These apps add a level of both challenge and fun to drinking water.
Depending on where you live, standard tap water can often taste mineralized or chlorinated.
An inexpensive water filter (either pipe-fitted or pitcher-based versions) can dramatically improve the taste and make it much more palatable and appealing.
It’s important to remember that some foods can also be an excellent source of water intake.
While most fruits are full of water, don’t overdo it, as they also contain the sugar fructose. Instead, look towards non-fruit, such as cucumber, zucchini, tomatoes (low-fructose fruit), beets, and celery.
With alcohol being a diuretic, it’s important to balance your beer or wine intake with water.
So develop the habit of either consuming water alongside your favorite alcoholic beverage or alternating between the two.
Not all bottles are created equally. There are some on the market that are specifically designed to ensure you achieve your water intake goals.
These range from those that indicate with markings on the side how much water you have so far consumed to those giving you hourly targets to aim for. Additionally, some have sensors which integrate with smartphone apps.
Throughout the night, we lose a lot of water through perspiration and breathing. Take a bottle of water to bed with you, and consume a few sips every time you wake up during the night.
Not only will this increase hydration, but it can also offset the chance of bad breath the following morning.
If you’re one of those lucky people who sleeps through the entire night without waking, I wouldn’t recommend setting a water alarm. Just forget about this tip—and take pride in the fact you are enjoying a rewarding night’s sleep.
During the warm summer months, swap your favorite ice cream treat for an ice pop. Made mainly from water, they will help to rehydrate much more than ice cream can.
Ideally, make your own. Ice pop molds are inexpensive and enable you to make sugar-free or low-sugar snacks that are much healthier than the processed varieties.
I’m sure you know people who consider themselves wine experts—become the same with water.
With so many different brands, flavors, sources, and carbonation levels available on the market, there’s a plethora to choose from and enough to keep drinking water both interesting and enjoyable.
Discover what types of water appeal to you most. You could give them your own rating, based on a variety of categories such as bitterness, flavor, sparkle, etc.
Water appears as a fairly innocuous liquid. It’s hardly the first thing that springs to mind when thinking of the damaging effects of excessive consumption.
However, as with any substance, you can have too much of a good thing. While relatively rare, it’s possible to overdose on water.
Water intoxication (hyponatremia) occurs when sodium within the body is watered down, leading to a lack of this important element.
Sodium balances the concentration of cells and surrounding liquids. If it falls too low, water in the blood flows into and swells these cells, which can prove fatal (particularly in the case of a swollen brain).
This occurs when your body cannot balance water intake with water output. The kidneys can only expel around 18 fluid ounces of water every hour, so if you exceed this volume, sodium levels can begin to drop.
However, this is extremely rare. You would need to be continually drinking water, which would be very uncomfortable to do. It would mean consuming around 2.5 to 5 gallons of water in a short space of time. Usually, this issue is only seen in athletes who are vastly overestimating their fluid requirements.
Ensuring you consume sufficient amounts of water can have immediate beneficial effects on the body.
These advantages can improve everything from physiological health (effective kidneys, brain function, and temperature regulation) through to lifestyle well-being (adequate sleep, fresh breath, and reduced hangovers).
Using some of the simple tips above will ensure that you are consuming enough water—one of the most effective and cost-friendly health products on the market.