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Staying hydrated for good health

Al Waller: It's no secret that water is vital to good health because every part of the body needs water to function properly specifically all cells, tissues and organs, which has got me wondering are we really getting enough. How do we know? Are some sources of water better for our bodies than others?

Welcome back to ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & WealthSM. I’m your host, Al Waller. With us today to discuss the importance of hydration is Mihaela Vincze, public health expert for nonprofit Transamerica Institute®. But before we dive in, if you would like us to present an episode about a specific topic, please reach out to [email protected]. We would love to get your input!

Mihaela, welcome back to the program today.

Mihaela Vincze: Hi – good to be here.

Al Waller: Now, I know water has been referred to as the elixir of life. So, could you walk us through just how significant hydration is for our health?

Mihaela Vincze: When we are dehydrated, our bodies are not able to work properly because they just do not have enough water to carry out normal functioning. This usually happens when we lose water quickly, for instance, through vomiting, sweating, or diarrhea. Our body weight is made up of 50 to 80 percent of water, so it’s very important to keep restocking its supply, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Al Waller: Well, that's astonishing because I didn't realize how much of our body weight is made of water. With summer quickly approaching, what are some of the symptoms associated with dehydration?

Mihaela Vincze: Research shows that even mild dehydration, which is considered fluid loss of 1-3 percent, may impair brain function—mood, energy levels, and memory can all be affected, according to a report published in The Journal of Nutrition.

Al Waller: That’s not good news. What other symptoms should listeners know about?

Mihaela Vincze: Early symptoms include dry mouth, fatigue, weakness, dark colored urine, headaches, as well as dizziness—this is important to note so you can remedy dehydration as soon as you suspect it!

On the other hand, extreme signs of dehydration include shriveled skin—for instance, skin that can hold a position for a few seconds when pinched, rather than bounce back immediately. Other symptoms include low blood pressure, sunken eyes, delirium, and unconsciousness. This isn’t the full list of symptoms. If you are curious about what other extreme symptoms of dehydration are, make sure to visit Medical News Today’s site page, What you should know about dehydration.

If at any point, you think you may be experiencing dehydration, check in with a health care provider to get guidance on the best course of action for you.

Al Waller: I am with you there – pursuing guidance from a health care provider is definitely the way to go. Beyond avoiding the symptoms of dehydration, what other benefits are derived from drinking water?

Mihaela Vincze: There are tons! Water can help flush out body waste, it keeps our temperature normal, it lubricates our joints, and aids our digestion. It can also lead to fewer headaches and more energy, according to the National Coalition on Aging.

Al Waller: Exactly, I know a lot of folks who have adopted the habit of carrying a water bottle wherever they go for just those reasons – I know I have.

How much water does someone need to drink?

Mihaela Vincze: This depends on a few factors—you may have to modify your daily intake if you exercise, if you live in a hot or humid environment, or if you are pregnant. Those who are ill may also need more fluids because our body loses water when we have a fever or are vomiting or are fighting off infections. The best way to avoid dehydration is to drink before you actually get thirsty. If you wait until after you are thirsty, you're already dehydrated, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Al Waller: Good point. It is important to remember to drink up before your body signals thirst. How much water does an average, healthy adult need?

Mihaela Vincze: The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that a sufficient daily fluid intake is around 15.5 cups of fluid a day for men. I find it helpful to know the ounces, which is 124. This helps me in determining how many times I have to refill my hydro flask. So, for 124 ounces, if you have a standard 32-ounce bottle, that means you have to refill it about 4 times a day.

For women, the recommendation is 11.5 cups, or about 92 ounces. So, a 32-ounce bottle would have to be refilled about 3 times to get the appropriate intake.

Al Waller: Well, based on those kinds of numbers, I think I'm running a little light on my intake. So, I've just made a mental note for the future.

While we're on the topic of water, this makes me wonder about all the different types that are out there. What are the best types in terms of hydration—tap, purified, distilled or alkaline?

Mihaela Vincze: Sure – why don’t we quickly run through each type and what you should know.

Al Waller: Let’s start with tap. Should anyone be drinking this?

Mihaela Vincze: According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, tap water is safe to drink across much of the United States. It is also less expensive than buying different types of bottled water.

Al Waller: That works for me. What about purified?

Mihaela Vincze: Purified water is a great alternative if your immediate water source is not safe for consumption, but purchasing a filtration system or purified water in general can really add up and be quite costly.

Al Waller: I priced out some of those filtration systems and they are expensive. What about distilled?

Mihaela Vincze: Similar to purified water, distilled water is great if you are somewhere where the tap water supply is contaminated – for instance if you are traveling and are not sure about the water supply, then distilled water would be a good option.

Al Waller: Exactly, I know in some countries, it is recommended not to go near the water. So, that makes sense too. What about alkaline—are the supposed health benefits for this type of water really worth switching over?

Mihaela Vincze: Compared with normal tap water, alkaline water has a higher pH level and contains negative oxidation reduction potential (ORP), as well as alkaline minerals. According to Mayo Clinic, it does not have any health benefits backed by science. It can also lead to lowered stomach acidity, which could actually prevent our body’s ability to fight off harmful bacteria. And lastly, it is generally expensive.

Al Waller: Based on that intel, I have to say that is one bandwagon I'm glad I didn't hop on – which brings me to my next question. Do we have to get all our hydration from water, or can we get it from other sources?

Mihaela Vincze: Good question. Our fluid intake can come from multiple sources, like beverages and food. Milk, juices, and teas as well as fruits and vegetables can provide a significant portion of our daily intake – even caffeinated beverages will contribute. However, just keep in mind that not all sources of hydration are created equally.

Fluids with sugar can lead to inflammation and other health problems, whereas caffeine can actually prevent us from getting good high-quality sleep according to Harvard Health. On that note, I also want to mention that alcoholic beverages should not be taken as a source of hydration. They can actually pull water from our bodies if you didn't already know that.

Al Waller: How does someone know if they are drinking enough water?

Mihaela Vincze: So generally, if you are not feeling thirsty and your urine is light yellow or colorless, then that's a good sign that your fluid intake is adequate. According to Mayo Clinic, to prevent dehydration, remember to drink water if you feel thirsty, with each meal, and between meals – and lastly, before, during, and after exercising.

Al Waller: Okay, well, that is all pretty straightforward and makes good sense. But how can someone get themselves to drink more water?

Mihaela Vincze: You mentioned earlier in the segment that you keep a water bottle with you, and that is a great tactic. Keeping a reusable water bottle near you makes it easier to remember to keep drinking it. Try to keep filling it up throughout the day.

If you find yourself feeling bored of water, it may be a good idea to include fruit with your water! I like to throw in a handful of berries or squeeze a wedge of lemon to keep it interesting.

Also, eating foods high in water can really help you stay hydrated. A 1 cup serving of watermelon is not only delicious but contains a half cup of water—along with other nutrients. Lots of these different tactics can help you reach your hydration goals.

Lastly, don’t forget to have an emergency water supply – for instance, a case of bottled water. In the event of a natural disaster, that may cause a disruption in your availability of safe drinking water.

Al Waller: Should we ever worry about drinking too much water?

Mihaela Vincze: Yes, when you drink too much water – it’s not good for you at all. Sometimes this happens to athletes who are trying to prevent dehydration. Our kidneys cannot get rid of the excess water, and the sodium in our blood can become very diluted when this happens, which is a condition called hyponatremia – it can be life-threatening. Signs may include vomiting and nausea, headaches, confusion, muscle weakness, even seizures and coma.

Al Waller: I don't think so. Don't sign me up for that, but it does lend credence though to that old adage “moderation in all things”. Quite apropos in this case.

Well, Mihaela – good conversation with some important and surprising insights all around.

We hope you’ll join us for future episodes, including the upcoming episode on ways to spend less money. Also, in case you missed it, check out recent episodes on aging myths, and how inflation is impacting our finances. If you have comments, feedback, or ideas for future shows, please reach out to [email protected].

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is brought to you by Transamerica Institute, a nonprofit private foundation dedicated to identifying, researching, and educating the public about retirement security and the intersections of health and financial well-being. You can find our weekly podcast on WYPR’s website and mobile app, wherever you get your podcasts, and at transamericainstitute.org.

ClearPath – Your Roadmap to Health & Wealth is produced by the Transamerica Institute with assistance from WYPR.

Until the next time, I’m your host Al Waller. Stay safe, be well and thanks for listening.

The information provided here is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as insurance, securities, ERISA, tax, investment, legal, medical, or financial advice or guidance.

Al Waller is a long-time Baltimore native and employment expert with a 30-year career in leading and advising locally and globally based corporations on matters including: Talent Acquisition and Retention, Employee Relations, Training and Development.
Mihaela Vincze is a public health expert and experienced health care educator. Serving as Transamerica Institute’s health care content developer, she shares insights on health and wellness on ClearPath—Your Roadmap to Health and WealthSM. Mihaela earned her master’s and bachelor’s degrees in public health at California State University, Northridge.