It’s the most essential element of life, but we often overlook its healing powers for our overall health. Instead, we go out of our way to seek out exotic cleanses and expensive pills to replenish ourselves.
Think about it: If you can’t fulfill your needs, do the things you want still matter?
Water is life. It makes about 80% of our planet, 75% of a living tree, and 60%-70% of our body. You can only last up to a week or so being thirsty before you fail every last cell, tissue, and organ and die, whereas you can survive up to a month or more without food. This is because every cell in our body, including those that make up the heart, the liver, the lungs, and the brain, are each made up of about 75%-90% water, and they need to be refueled after all the water you lost during the day in order to keep themselves (and ultimately keep you) functioning well.
Usually, by the time you feel the thirst, you’re already dehydrated. This sensation of thirst is your body’s way of telling you it needs rehydration. Well, where did all the water go? Everything from breathing, digestion, circulation, skin evaporation, temperature regulation, producing mucus, producing saliva, to when you’re passing motion. Yes, fluid loss is a constant thing, and that’s why your system needs you to maintain a healthy fluid balance at all times.
Your water needs
If you already know me, you’ll find me carrying a 1-liter water bottle everywhere I go. If you don’t see it, chances are it’s in my car. Trust me – I’d rather carry around the heavy stuff than going about thirsty. I get migraines and blurry vision within hours without water.
I presume you’re not as extreme as me. My mom said so herself: I drank much more water when I was an infant compared to my brothers. I kept refusing porridge and formulas, but I’ve always been guzzling water. It’s a huge part of how I came to understand why I need so much water than everybody else.
Aside from that, what makes some people need more water than others are things like warm weather (like in Indonesia), high altitudes, and a vigorous exercise sesh. Everybody is different, and it’s best to take the 8-glasses-a-day rule with a grain of salt1. A quick rule of thumb is to drink frequently and urinate frequently until your urine is light in color.
Ways to get your fluids
The good news is that you can hydrate without drinking plain water2: You can get your fluids from food. All raw produce (i.e. fruits and vegetables) are made up of 70%-90% water, and there’s also coffee, tea, juices, smoothies, and other non-alcoholic fluids you would prefer than the much-neglected water. Infused water (of lemon, lime, berries, and such) is another thing that’s enjoying a moment in the healthy living movement these days – it’s a good way to dress up your H20 so you’ll enjoy it better. As for me, I like my water simple the way it is.
Why drink more?
From someone who drinks 4 liters of water a day, this argument might seem biased. But there’s plenty of research that shows drinking more water dramatically improves your overall health. Take a look:
Water is the main mode of transportation for nutrients in your body. The fluid gets rid of the existing waste, bacteria, and other toxins through urine and sweat. This makes room for your cells to absorb the nutrients that water carries, including oxygen for every system in your body to function properly. Along with dietary fiber (they bind toxins present in your system), water treats constipation by flushing them out via your stools.
Best sports drink
Just being 1-2% dehydrated can greatly affect your athletic performance3. Be sure to drink before, during, and after your physical activity to allow your body to cool itself efficiently and prevent cramps. Water is also key to optimal circulation of oxygen throughout the body. With more oxygen being pumped into your muscle tissues (which is made up of 75% water), you’ll be able to delay fatigue and work harder for longer periods of time4.
Like I said before, I get headaches easily within a few hours without water. Migraines are a common symptom of dehydration. Because our brain is made up of mostly water, it needs frequent rehydration for you to think clearer, focus better, and be more alert. So instead of downing Panadol the next time the head pain hits, try plain old water and wait it out. Also, sipping water before a tense situation (think tests and exams) has been shown to ease your nerves, according to research conducted at the University of East London. Studies on schoolchildren have suggested that drinking more water improves attention and memory as well5.
Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and its main job is to regulate the body’s temp by keeping it warm when it’s cold and sweating a lot when it’s hot6. Feed your skin with the regular hydration it needs and you’ll be adding more life to your complexion. Arguably, drinking plenty of water is the most basic protocol for your anti-aging routine. No amount of moisturizers can make your skin better absorb the active ingredients in a product, so hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
People who normally drink high volumes of water a day (of 2-4 liters) became less calm, less content, less vigorous, and just more negative when they’re deprived of fluid to 1 liter per day, whereas those who normally drink less than 1.2 liters a day became less sleepy, less fatigue, and less cloudy during the day7. After exercise, even mild dehydration (just 1.36%) leads to negative mood, less concentration, fatigue, and more headaches in women than those who are hydrated8. We often mistake thirst with hunger, and we end up gobbling sugary cookies and muffins to soothe ourselves, bloating ourselves up only to feel grumpier later. Drink up before you feel any hint of thirst, and always having a glass of water available near you is a good place to start.
Cancer be gone
Reduce your chances of getting colon cancer by 45%9, bladder cancer by 50% for men10, and your likelihood of developing breast cancer11 with water to maintain optimal circulation of nutrients. Although other studies are still inconsistent, drinking more water certainly helps with certain health problems, namely to fight infections, lower blood pressure, and prevent kidney stones.
Now here’s the question of the day: How are you planning to drink more water this week?
P.S. Geek out more with this review of all the research done on water in the last decade. Don’t forget to pour a glass by your side.
- ‘Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day’ – Really? [↩]
- I’ve heard of people who don’t like water, which, for someone like me, is pretty weird. [↩]
- Impact on mild dehydration on wellness and on exercise performance [↩]
- Hydration and physical performance [↩]
- Dehydration influences mood and cognition: A plausible hypothesis? [↩]
- American Skin Association: Resource [↩]
- PLoS ONE: Effects of changes in water intake on mood of high and low drinkers [↩]
- Mild dehydration affects mood in healthy young women [↩]
- Physical activity, water intake and risk of colorectal cancer in Taiwan: a hospital-based case-control study. [↩]
- The Ohio State University’s 1999 study [↩]
- University of California, San Francisco guidelines for Nutrition & Breast Cancer [↩]