It is HOT today. How hot? How about in the 90’s, but it feels over 100 degrees due to high humidity. An air quality alert is in effect as is a heat alert. “Cooling centers” are open in public spaces like libraries and senior centers, some schools, etc. Take your time shopping at the Stop and Shop, where it is always cold. We’re in for several more days of this, so listen up!
When we were little, we learned that our bodies were comprised of about 90% water. I thought, “How could that be? Wouldn’t we just fall like a shapeless heap? Bones can’t be made of water; they hold us upright.”
Well, I learned since then, the number is more like 60% (still quite a lot). Water is one of the essential nutrients, as is protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals. Water is essential as it carries nutrients and wastes through the body, is needed for metabolic functions, is a solvent for water soluble vitamins and minerals, and supports the molecular structure of body cells. It lubricates and cushions the joints, regulates body temperature and maintains blood volume. Because it carries the electrolytes sodium and potassium, it is important to proper heart function. Are you listening now?
Most people are in a constant state of dehydration. We, as a nation, don’t drink enough. By the time we are thirsty, assuming the thirst mechanism is working properly, we have lost 2% of our body fluid volume. Add to that that many of our thirst mechanisms don’t function well, particularly as we age, and it can spell trouble.
Dehydration can be serious. If you lose 1-2% of body fluid, you experience thirst, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite and discomfort. At 3-4%, your physical performance is impaired, your mouth is dry, urine output is reduced (leaving more toxins in your body), your skin flushes and you experience apathy and/or agitation. At 5-6%, you can’t concentrate, may get a headache, will be irritable, and sleepy. Your respiratory rate will rise, putting strain on your cardiovascular system and your body will be unable to regulate temperature. At 7-10%, dizziness, muscle spasms, loss of balance, delirium and collapse are likely. When thirst is not motivating you to take in fluids, you can pass through these stages quickly.
Water needs vary by person, but a good rule of thumb for an average person is to take in 8-12 cups of water form all sources. Juicy fruits like watermelon provide a lot of water, vegetables have some, all drinks count, but don’t use sports drinks as they contain high doses of sugars and sodium They are best only when exercising vigorously, for an hour or more. Be sure to increase your intake when exercising, especially if it is in hot weather. Do your outdoor exercise early in the day or late in the evening to lessen the risk of dehydration.
Water is essential. As essential as air. We can’t live without it. Be aware of how much you are taking in. Don’t wait until you are thirsty as it is an unreliable indicator of need. By the time a normal person is thirsty, s/he has already lost 1-2% of body fluid. In the elderly, it is especially critical to drink on schedule, as thirst is a function that declines with age.
Respect your body’s need for water. It is the MOST essential nutrient!