The average human body contains about 40 to 70 percent water, and almost every internal process needs that fluid to function. For humans, water is life. We can survive up to three weeks without food but less than seven days without water.
Staying hydrated keeps people healthy, but it can be difficult to manage when seasons change and temperatures increase. In the summer, your body works tirelessly to maintain its standard temperature. But to keep the status quo, you need to drink a lot of water, and not supplying your body with proper fluids can be uncomfortable or even life-threatening.
DANGERS OF DEHYDRATION
Dehydration isn’t just extreme thirst. When you become dehydrated, it means your fluid and salt levels are so low that your body has begun to dry up. If this condition persists, it can result in hospitalization or worse, death.
Although acute dehydration is usually a side effect of vomiting or diarrhea, if you don’t drink fluids regularly, normal body processes like sweating, urinating and even breathing can contribute to lower fluid and salt levels. This is particularly the case for people who are susceptible to dehydration like young children, the elderly, anyone with a fever and those who live in hot climates.
SYMPTOMS OF DEHYDRATION
The first stages of dehydration don’t have noticeable symptoms. Therefore, it’s crucial to drink water and replenish your body routinely. If you have recognizable symptoms, the problem is already moderately severe.
Mild symptoms of dehydration may include extreme thirst, dizziness, irritability, dry mouth, muscle spasms and the inability to drink, despite thirst. If someone you know has these symptoms, stop and give them water or a low-sodium sports drink immediately. If left untreated, mild dehydration can progress quickly.
Moderate to severe symptoms include muscle pain and contractions, convulsions, a fast heart rate, fainting, bloating and overheating. You can ward off these symptoms easily by consuming fluids routinely, so most people never experience moderate or severe dehydration.
Staying hydrated will also help prevent your body from overheating in the summer sun. Water acts as the coolant for your internal organs and keeps things at normal levels, even when outside temperatures rise. Still, if you’re low on fluids, you run the risk of falling victim to temperature-related conditions such as heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Heat cramps are muscle spasms that occur when you lose considerable amounts of salt and water through strenuous activity. Heat exhaustion symptoms can manifest as heavy sweating or a rapid pulse. Lastly, heat stroke can have deceptively mild symptoms like headaches or slight dizziness, but it’s actually the most dangerous form of overheating.
It’s easy to dismiss the urgency of these conditions and try to solve the problem by taking a break in the shade. However, if you’re insufficiently hydrated, prolonged exposure to the summer heat can make your symptoms worse or even send you to the hospital.
Fortunately, dehydration, heat cramps, heat stroke and heat exhaustion are all preventable conditions. The first step to avoiding them is understanding and using the right methods to stay hydrated.
HOW TO STAY HYDRATED
Drink Before You Get Thirsty
While you don’t have to drink liquids constantly, you should drink water consistently enough that you don’t feel thirsty, especially if you spend a lot of time outside. Thirst is your body’s way of warning you that its fluid levels are too low. To combat this, drink at least eight 8-oz glasses of water (half a gallon) throughout each day.
In addition to preventing dehydration, drinking water regularly will keep you focused and alert, improve your digestive processes and help your body detoxify itself. Furthermore, drinking several types of water like alkaline water (water that has a pH level greater than seven) can help reverse the symptoms of dehydration faster than other liquids.
Monitor Your Urine
Staring into the toilet bowl after you’ve done your business might sound gross, but you can learn crucial things about your health from the color of your urine. When your body is hydrated and functioning optimally, your urine should be pale yellow. If it’s any other color, you’re likely lacking fluids or have another type of deficiency.
Unless you’re checking immediately after waking up, a dark yellow color means you need to drink more water. Smelly or cloudy urine indicates a more serious health problem like a fungal or bacterial infection, so you should contact your doctor right away if you observe these symptoms.
Take Your Water on the Go
Staying hydrated is simple if you have easy access to water while you’re on the move. Take a water bottle with you to ensure you’ll have something to drink when you’re away from home, work or school. You may need to drink more than usual to stay hydrated when summer arrives, and beverage prices often increase with the temperature, especially in tourist locations.
You can save yourself a couple dollars and the search for a drink if you bring your own water. Furthermore, the U.S. only recycles about 23 percent of the plastic the public throws away, and plastic bottles make up a sizable part of that percentage. You can reduce your contribution to landfills and waste by using metal, glass or BPA-free plastic reusable water bottles.
Drink Before, During and After Exercise
Regular exercise helps strengthen the body and improves your health. However, if you aren’t careful, strenuous activity in hot climates for extended periods can make you dehydrated. If you participate in a sport that requires frequent exposure to the sun, or your profession involves a lot of yard work, such as farming, landscaping, fishing or construction, you should take special precautions to avoid dehydration.
Medical professionals recommend consuming at least 8 oz. of water 20 to 30 minutes before you exercise or begin any sort of arduous work in the summer heat. You should also drink about 7 to 10 oz. of water every 10 to 20 minutes while you’re outside to maintain normal fluid levels, and 8 oz. within 30 minutes of completing your activities.
Balance Your Electrolytes
Sometimes, just drinking water isn’t enough. If you’re outside in the heavy heat and sweating a lot, chances are you’re losing valuable trace minerals your body needs like sodium, potassium, chloride and phosphate. These minerals have an electric charge and fall under the electrolyte category. Electrolytes are vital to the body because they help maintain the body’s chemistry, affect muscle performance and are necessary to keep your nervous system and heart functioning properly.
Your body gets electrolytes from the foods you eat and the types of beverages you drink. Large electrolyte imbalances are more common in severe dietary or stomach-related illnesses like bulimia, anorexia, food poisoning or as a byproduct of certain flu symptoms. If you experience nausea, fatigue, muscle weakness, stomach pain and irritability while outside in the sun, rebalance your electrolyte levels with water, sports drinks or electrolyte replacers like Pedialyte.
Avoid Drinking Alcohol in the Heat
Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it limits the body’s ability to reabsorb water and inhibits its production of anti-diuretic hormones. Without these hormones in your body, you’ll lose more fluid than normal through increased urination. Light drinking in warmer climates is fine if you pace yourself and drink non-alcoholic beverages in between.
However, you should avoid heavy drinking in extreme temperatures at all costs. Higher temperatures mean you sweat more, and the more you sweat, the more water your body loses. If you aren’t careful, drinking in the summer heat can further dehydrate you and lead to dizziness, lightheadedness or even fainting.
Excessive drinking can also cause vomiting, which further depletes the body of essential fluids. The only way to completely prevent these symptoms and other alcohol-related injuries is abstinence. But, if you choose to drink on a scorching day, remember to pace yourself and alternate between water and alcoholic beverages during your evening or event.
Add Cucumber to Your Water
Cucumber is more than just a salad ingredient or a part of spa routines. Cucumber has a lot of antioxidants your body needs to repair things like cell damage and unstable molecule production. It can also help lower your blood pressure, and when placed over dry or sunken spots, cucumbers can hydrate and revitalize your skin.
These electrolyte-rich, gourd-like fruits are perfect for helping you beat the heat. If you aren’t a fan of plain water and want to avoid the high sodium content common in many sports drinks, adding cucumber to your water is an easy, inexpensive way to make sure you stay hydrated.
For a tasty, electrolyte-replenishing drink, add cucumber slices and a few drops of lime juice to a pitcher of water. Once you’ve added the ingredients, let the pitcher cool in the refrigerator for at least one hour before drinking it. Swapping sugary sodas or sodium-heavy drinks for cucumber-infused water is an effortless way to lose weight and stay hydrated at the same time.
Track Your Intake
If you don’t like the taste of water, staying hydrated in the summer can seem like a chore. Fortunately for you, there are apps that can track your liquid intake. Apps like Plant Nanny, an app that reminds you to drink throughout the day or risk watching an animated shrub shrivel up with each ounce of water you forgo, turn staying hydration into a game.
Plant Nanny’s methods are a little morbid, but users claim that taking care of their virtual plant pets is a great incentive to stay hydrated. For those who want to use tracking technology without the extra gameplay, try Daily Water for iOS or Water Drink Reminder for Android devices.
Surprisingly, the clothes you wear can affect your fluid and salt levels, if only indirectly. Certain outfits make you sweat more in the summer than others, meaning you’ll lose more water depending on how you’re dressed. Understanding which fabrics and clothing types allow your body to breathe is essential for keeping cool.
It's so important that countries like Japan, which has long and humid summers, have government-endorsed programs dedicated to teaching the public how to stay hydrated and dress properly during summer months. Cotton, lace, linen, chiffon and certain lightweight synthetic blends are perfect, airy options for constructing breathable summer outfits.
Color is another factor to keep in mind. Dark hues like black, navy and forest green absorb light more readily than white, neon colors or pastels. Therefore, if temperatures in your area are around 90 degrees or above, you might want to leave your favorite dark-blue band shirt behind in favor of something lighter and brighter.
Eat More Fruits and Leafy Vegetables
When discussing hydration, people seldom think of the role food has in managing your body’s level of hydration. Electrolytes and fluids play a significant role in staying hydrated, and fruits and vegetables have substantial amounts of both. About 20 percent of your daily water intake should come from the foods you eat, especially if you live in hot or humid climates.
If you know you’ll be spending a lot of time outside during the summer, consider changing your diet. Cut out excessive carbohydrates and substitute carb-heavy snacks for water-packed fruits and melons like watermelons, cantaloupes, honeydews, berries, grapes, bell peppers, tomatoes and of course, cucumbers.
Water is essential for your body and your health. It helps regularize your body temperature and protects you from conditions like heat stroke and heat exhaustion. Your fluid intake also affects your electrolytes levels.
The less fluid you drink, the harder it is for your body to perform and manage critical processes. Despite how important it is to consume liquids during the summer, you don’t want to drink too much. Just as not replenishing your fluid levels can cause health problems, drinking too much water can result in over-hydration or water intoxication.
Just remember that moderation is your key to success. If you drink water at regular intervals, eat more electrolyte-rich fruits and vegetables, and dress appropriately, you’ll stay hydrated, healthy and happy regardless of the summer heat.
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