Once I met a 92-year-old woman who looked like she was in her sixties. She had been a fighter pilot for the Canadian forces. Deep down, I knew genetics must be the key to her incredible looks, but I still asked what her secret was.
The Biological Importance Of Water
She hadn’t discovered the “Fountain of Youth,” but her secret was simple. “I drink lots and lots of water,” she said. “Drink water always.” Her advice stuck with me, but I wonder if there is any real science behind the idea that water keeps us young and healthy.
What we do know is that water…
- Regulates body temperature
- Moistens eye, nose and mouth tissues
- Lubricates joints
- Protects body organs and tissues
- Helps prevent constipation
- Flushes out waste, thereby lessening strain on the kidneys
- Helps dissolve minerals and nutrients
- Carries oxygen and nutrients to the cells
Furthermore, nearly two-thirds of the body is comprised of water. In fact, humans cannot survive more than one week without water. We lose 250 milliliters of water each day simply by breathing and we can lose anywhere from 100 to 8,000 milliliters per day through sweat.
Dehydration can lead to a number of undesirable symptoms such as fatigue, loss of coordination, cramping, slow muscle recovery, slow tissue healing, and even heat stroke. According to trainer Amanda Carlson, “Just losing 2% of your body weight in fluid can decrease performance by up to 25 percent.” In her study of college football athletes, 98 percent of them were dehydrated even before they stepped onto the field. It seems that becoming dehydrated is much easier than we’d imagine.
Studies Conducted On The Importance Of Water
- Water helps with weight loss. Associate Professor Brenda Davy, PhD of Virginia Tech says drinking two 8 ounce glasses of water before meals results in the consumption of 75 to 90 less calories. After 12 weeks, water drinkers lost 15.5 pounds, compared to 11 pounds in the non-water-drinker group. Furthermore, most water drinkers not only kept off their weight over the next year but dropped another 1 to 2 pounds as well.
- Water aids in muscular endurance. Harvard researchers found that hypohydration reduced muscular endurance by 15% but had no adverse effect on muscle strength.
- Cold water aids in fitness performance. Stanford University researchers discovered that drinking cold 40-degree water improved fitness testing levels of 70 percent of study participants versus their results when drinking room-temperature water.
- Maybe there is some connection between water and youthfulness. Scientists at Procter & Gamble claim that a completely hydrated body is more effective at eliminating toxins (which may play some role in disease prevention) and purifies itself more easily. Also, toxin-free skin is better able to rejuvenate and heal wrinkles.
- Water is overrated. Physiologist Susan Shirreffs of Loughborough University contends that drinking a post-workout glass of milk keeps the body rehydrated four times’ longer than water or sports drinks.
- Is beer better? Researchers at Granada University in Spain contend that beer is the ultimate post-workout drink. Professor Manuel Garzon said the bubbles in beer help quench thirst and the carbohydrates make up for burned calories. Those who drank a pint of beer after their workout were actually slightly more hydrated than those who drank a pint of water, he found.
How Much Water To Drink A Day
You’ve probably heard the old rule of thumb to drink about 8 glasses of water per day. That’s a good rule to live by and it can be easily accomplished if you have a tall (2-cup) glass and you drink one at breakfast, lunch, dinner and night.
However, don’t forget that those eight glasses are counting total consumption of liquid per day and that the rules become more complex when you’re working out and expending tons of water through your pores.
The American Council on Exercise recommends the following:
- Drinking 17 to 20 oz. (2.5 cups) of water 2 to 3 hours before physical activity.
- Drink 8 oz. (1 cup) 30 minutes before working out.
- Drink 8 oz. every 10-20 minutes during your workout to rehydrate.
- Enjoy a Gatorade or Powerade following your workout to replace lost electrolytes.
So let’s think about this a minute. Say I’m planning to take an hour-long cycling class at 5pm. That means at 2pm I’m drinking my 2.5 cups of water. Then at 4:30 on my way to the gym I’m drinking another cup. While I work out, I’m drinking 3 more cups of water. When I get home, I’m topping off with a 20 oz. sports drink for a total of 9 glasses of water just to replenish what I’ve lost during my work-out! Another way to estimate your water requirements is to weigh yourself before and after a workout. For every pound lost, replace it with 16 to 20 ounces of water. Chances are, I’ll probably end up drinking about 12 glasses of water on workout days (and probably hitting up the bathroom way more than I’d like to!)
Can You Have Too Much of a Good Thing?
A condition called hyponatremia occurs when the body becomes diluted from drinking too much water, the body retains this water, sodium levels drop to dangerously low levels, and brain tissues swell. Though rare, this condition is more common amongst marathon runners. The symptoms are surprisingly akin to the symptoms of dehydration – nausea, headaches, confusion and fatigue – which makes it difficult to assess.
It is estimated that 3.2 to 6.1 million patients are treated for hyponatremia each year. According to the New York Times, 1 percent of the 35,000 New York City marathon runners developed some form of hyponatremia in 2004. Similarly, 13 percent of the runners in the 2002 Boston Marathon finished the race, although they unknowingly had hyponatremia. One woman drank 6 Liters of water over the course of 3 hours for a radio contest and died, which goes to show just how dangerous hyper-hydration can be.
To make sure this does not happen to you, gauge your hydration in several ways:
- Try to stay around 9 (women) to 13 (men) cups a day.
- See that you produce 6.3 cups of colorless or slightly yellow urine a day.
- Athletes playing demanding sports should add a few sports drinks during game play.