Hydration Hacks: The Scientific Benefits to the Various Ways We Drink Water
We all know that it's important to drink water regularly throughout the day. After all, it has so many benefits, including flushing toxins out of the body and maintaining kidney health and good bowel movements.
Turns out that's only part of the story. While being properly hydrated is key to maintaining overall health, it's also a big component of maintaining and even increasing cognitive ability. Plus, drinking enough water regularly can help you lose weight, if you know when to drink it and how much.
It's important not to wait until you feel really thirsty to get some H20 in your body. By the time you experience physical thirst, your body has already lost 1 to 2 percent of water volume.
A good gauge is the color of your urine. If it's clear or light yellow (think weak lemonade or straw), you're golden (so to speak). If it's got a brownish or iced tea colored tinge, you're dehydrated.
Research shows that even mild dehydration can alter brain structure, impair cognition, and cause mood fluctuations. Scientists aren't quite sure why, although they posit that being dehydrated signals the brain to send out neurons that signal danger.
Psychology Today points out that brain cells are composed mainly of water (almost 80%, in fact) and other elements, and that when we're dehydrated, we throw off the delicate balance our brain needs to function at its peak.
Another study of adolescents showed that dehydration forced the brain's structure to change and had to work harder to achieve certain performance levels. Research at the University of East London showed that people who drank water had better reaction times than those who didn't.
Dr. Joseph Cilona points out that most Americans are in a state of dehydration and that being dehydrated can adversely affect your ability to understand what's on a computer screen, read, concentrate, and coordinate hand-eye movements.
If that's not enough to get you to reach for a glass of water, then read on.
Fitness experts, nutritionists, and dietitians have told people for decades to drink more water to lose weight, but until recently, there was little hard proof to back up that assumption.
However, a 2012 Virginia Tech study shows not only that drinking water before meals can help people lose weight, it actually can help keep off the pounds. Another study by the School of Public Health in Berlin also showed that downing two 8-ounce glasses of water pre-meal helped people lose weight.
There's much speculation as to why. The Virginia Tech scientists think that drinking water before a meal could contribute to a feeling of fullness, which stops people from overeating. Penn State researchers point out that when people drink water, they're less likely to turn to calorie-laden sodas and fruit juices when feeling thirsty.
Turns out that chugging glass after glass of water isn't the right way to get all its benefits. There are certain specifics one should follow to reap all the rewards of staying hydrated. As mentioned above, drinking two glasses of water before a meal, rather than after, contributed to the weight loss effect.
In terms of weight loss, there haven't been any conclusive studies. Some health experts suggest that ice water may boost your metabolism very, very slightly, since your body has to warm up the water to room temperature. Outside Online says the difference it makes is so small it's negligible.
Acupuncture and TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) have very strong recommendations on this topic: sip room temperature water (and, in fact, eat mostly room temperature food). They believe ice-cold water is too much of a shock to the system and negatively affects your digestion.
Ayurvedic medicine recommends starting the day with warm water with a slice of lemon or lime. Their reasoning is that the warm water gently stimulates the GI tract for better digestion, while the lemon provides minerals to loosen ama (toxins).
When it comes to drinking ice, cool, or warm water during or after exercise, there's a lot of disagreement out there. Some argue that the body better absorbs cool or ice water when the body is warm after exercise. Others say that the energy it takes to heat up ice water if you drink it during your workout detracts from your workout's quality.
We say drink water at whatever temperature you prefer it—just make sure you keep drinking it, especially before, during, and after exercise.
As for the amount of water you should drink, we've all heard that we should drink 8 glasses a day. But people are different, with different physical needs. You need more water if you're physically active. You might need to drink less if you get water from other food sources (see below).
Nutritionist and health coach Yuri Elkaim has a good recommendation: take your weight in pounds and divide it in two. That's the number of ounces of water you should be drinking every day. He also points out that electrolyte balance is important, so you may want to add a little sea salt to one glass of water (and skip the sugar-filled sports drinks).
There's also this handy calculator that takes into account height, weight, activity, intensity of activity, and urine color. The Internet is a wonderful place.
It's important to remember that fruits and vegetables are often composed mostly of water. Upping your consumption of fresh produce also contributes to healthy hydration levels. Plus, they contain electrolytes, nutrients, and vitamins. So if you skip having a glass, eat some apples or a salad instead.
Tea (green, black, and herbal) will also hydrate you and has numerous other benefits as well.
Most of us in the developed world take for granted the fact that we have potable water that simply comes into our houses just by flicking on a faucet. In other parts of the world, one billion people have to make do with contaminated water sources and walk miles to get water for their most basic needs. Great organizations like charity: water and WaterAid help those underserved communities get access to fresh, clean water.
How do you make sure you stay hydrated during the day?