Of all the elements on Earth, none is more essential to life as we know it than water. While we might all be aware that life on Earth would be impossible without water, fewer are aware of the importance of proper hydration in their everyday life. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, staying properly hydrated is vital for both immediate physical and mental performance as well as long term overall health.
But why is it so important to hydrate your body? What are the benefits of proper hydration, and how can you tell if you are hydrated properly or not? Let’s answer these questions and also take a look at the best way to hydrate your body.
Why is Hydration So Important to Our Survival?
The key element which allows life as we know it to function is the handy dandy H2O molecule. According to some of the best theories on the origins of life on Earth, the earliest lifeforms likely first sparked from the “soup” of water and organic molecules arising from the natural processes on primeval Earth. In these earliest days of life, water’s remarkable properties as a solvent played an indispensable role in creating the chemical environment which would produce more and more complex organic molecules, which eventually resulted in simple organisms.
Water is often referred to as the Universal Solvent. This is because more substances dissolve in water than any other solvent. In the complex biochemistry of modern lifeforms, we can see first hand how they make use of the Universal Solvent to dissolve and transport essential nutrients and other chemicals, allowing these compounds to be more easily distributed throughout the organism. While such complexity would take millions or even billions of years of evolution to arise, even in the earliest precursors to life water’s ability to dissolve and transport organic compounds was vital to forming the mixing pot which allowed for progressively more complex reactions to occur.
But there are many more properties of water which shed some light on why hydration is so important to our survival. Here is a brief list:
- Water is Essential to Certain Chemical Reactions: For many types of chemical reaction, the proper “medium” or environment is required in order to allow the chemicals to interact properly. Often this means being dissolved into a solution, which can allow the molecules to more freely make contact and interact. As the Universal Solvent, water provides the ideal medium for a laundry list of chemical reactions. But in addition to that, the water molecule itself is often recruited for certain tasks, where the H2O molecule can be taken apart and used in different biological functions.
- Water is Ideal for Maintaining Thermoregulation: Thermoregulation – the process an organism uses to keep its body temperature stable – is an essential property of life and of Homeostasis. Thanks to some nifty principles of physics, water is extremely useful at helping the body out with this task. Compared to other solvents, water can be exposed to significant amounts of thermal energy while only increasing its temperature by small amounts. Since most organisms have a huge percentage of their body weight in water, this helps to maintain stable temperatures even in widely varying environments.
- Water is An Amazing Lubricant: Complex organisms (like humans!) have a lot of moving parts. To make sure everything runs smoothly, joints and other key parts of the body need to be properly lubricated. Water helps to reduce friction between moving parts inside the body, allowing for much better function.
Benefits of Proper Hydration
As fascinating as looking at why and how water is so vital to the basic functions of life maybe, it doesn’t really tell us about the practical everyday benefits of proper hydration. As we learned above, water is essential for pretty much all biological functions, so it is only logical that proper hydration will have an impact on all of your bodies functions without exception. From your brain to your biceps to your heart and liver, quite literally the whole system relies on water to transport molecules, lubricate friction points, act as an essential precursor in chemical reactions, and a huge list of other biological functions too complex to explore here.
So the question is: where to look for the benefits of proper hydration, and how to tell if you are properly hydrated or not. Chronic Dehydration carries with it negative symptoms and can be a serious condition requiring hospitalization, yet even mild dehydration has some serious consequences which can leave you feeling weak or ill.
According to WebMD, Symptoms of Dehydration include:
- Increased thirst and/or dry mouth
- Dizziness and “Sluggishness”
- Weakness and Confusion
These are the key signs to watch out for if you feel like you might not be getting properly hydrated. The main thing is to listen to your body! If you are thirsty, don’t hesitate to drink. Yet sometimes – for whatever reason – our sense of thirst can slip away from us a bit. Keeping some tabs on your daily water intake is vital to making sure you’re getting enough water, and you’ll quickly know if you begin feeling sluggish that you’re not reaching your bodies water intake needs.
Looking at the symptoms of dehydration, we can infer that proper hydration comes with the benefits of keeping thirst and dry mouth at bay, keeping your muscles strong and your brain sharp. But it also improves body function and metabolic processes in more complex and less obvious manners. Studies have shown that proper hydration plays a key role in underlying metabolic and endocrine functions, which affect the bodily functions on all levels in both the short-term and long-term.
Benefits of Proper Hydration include:
- Improved Physical Performance in both Strength-based and Endurance/Aerobic Exercises.
- Improved Cognitive Performance and Mental Acuity.
- Improved Metabolic and Endocrine Function.
- Better Overall Health in Short- and Long-term.
How to Hydrate Properly
The amount of water one needs to intake daily for proper hydration is extremely variable. There are actually a huge number of factors which go into trying to determine how much water intake one needs everyday. These include environmental factors like climate, temperature and humidity. It also includes factors such as level of physical activity and even individual body chemistry. Diet plays an important role as well: what you’re eating and how much of it you consume can have a substantial impact on your bodies daily water requirements.
An average of 20% of daily water intake comes from the food we eat. Food is a vital part of the equation when it comes to staying properly hydrated, yet depending on what your diet looks like, the amount of water one gets from their food intake can vary quite a bit. Certain foods – especially processed foods or those high in sugars – can actually consume copious amounts of water in order to be properly digested, resulting in very little hydration value or even a net dehydration. But on the other side of the coin, items like fruits and vegetables can be nearly entirely water and provide a huge amount of hydration. Lettuce is nearly 95% water, and an apple is 84% water!
But regardless of how many fruits or salads you eat in a day, there is still no replacement for drinking water. The simple act of drinking water is the quickest, most sure-fire way to hydrate. While other beverages are also capable of providing for hydration needs, none is as effective as water. Many drinks contain sugars or diuretics such as caffeine which actually have a dehydrating effect, taking water away from the body. Although the water content in such beverages is almost always enough to make up for the dehydrating effects of sugars or diuretics, one would definitely derive more hydration from simply drinking water alone!
Because individual hydration requirements vary, it is hard to select a single universal figure for recommended daily water intake. However, the figure which is most often put forth is about 64 ounces – or 8 glasses – of water per-day. If you lead an active lifestyle or live in a hot, dry climate, this may be substantially less than you need. But I find it a good guideline to fill up a 64oz water bottle at the beginning of the day since I know by the time I’ve finished it I’ve at least met some kind of recommended standard!
For the body to be properly hydrated, it requires more than just H2O alone. Electrolytes play a vital role in mediating biological functions and electrolyte depletion can have serious consequences. In cases of dehydration resulting from exercise, alcohol indulgence, or illness, attempting to hydrate the body with water alone is not enough to account for hydration needs and can actually lead to further complications. Essential electrolytes must also be replenished in order for the body to properly hydrate and function.
Electrolyte depletion can result in electrolyte imbalances, which often manifest problems such as muscle cramping. To combat this, electrolyte supplements are available, which effectively act like hydration pills, providing a dose of the necessary electrolytes to keep the body well-functioning. Electrolytes are also found from food sources, as well as being included in many popular sports drinks.
Staying Properly Hydrated Wherever You Go
To ensure you meet your daily hydration needs, it is vital to have a means to hydrate no matter if you’re at home, on the go, or at work. Probably the simplest and most assured method of always having something to drink handy is getting a great water bottle. Our Best Water Bottles of 2015 has some helpful suggestions if you’re looking to pickup a new bottle. If you enjoy running or hiking, picking up a hydration pack can be a great way to insure proper hydration on the go. Check out our recommendations for running hydration packs or our 5 Best Hydration Packs for Summer 2015 if you want a bit of storage space too.
In addition to making sure you have some water to accompany you on the go, keeping hydrated at home is also vital! If you rely on questionable water sources – or if you just don’t like the taste of your tap water – investing in something like a counter-top gravity water filter or even a filtered water pitcher can help make all the difference in how tasty your tap water is.
Hopefully this article has left you with a good sense of why proper hydration is essential to everyday life! Drink up – your body will thank you.
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Don't neglect your water intake! Proper hydration is a key element in feeling good and being healthy - we explore some of the science behind it, as well as offering some hydration tips.