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April 25, 2022

The Healing Powers of Water: Stay Hydrated, Stay Healthy

By: Cathy Peterson

"Water is the driving force of all nature." Leonardo da Vinci

Those water bottles you see in the hands and bags of Americans on-the-go are much more than a trendy accessory, they’re a life-sustaining liquid in a bottle. The awareness of the benefits of water has grown over time, since it has become the second most popular drink after soft drinks. Water is essential for life since our bodies can last weeks without food, but only a few days without water.1  Staying hydrated by drinking adequate amounts of water is the first step in good health and nutrition. Dehydration, where you lose more water than you’re taking in, can cause multiple health issues. When dehydrated, your body can’t function as it needs to and without enough fluids it cannot carry out its normal functions. There are numerous reasons to drink water regularly throughout your day. What else has no fat, no calories, no cost and countless benefits?

woman holding laptop and waterbottle

How to optimize your physical performance

Whether you get exercise for recreation or train as a serious athlete, staying hydrated is imperative to your performance. It is important to drink enough water before, during and after any physical exertion. Water helps give you energy and keep you healthy, as well as lubricate your joints and regulate your core body temperature. Your body cannot perform at its optimum level if you’re not hydrated, and can leave you feeling dizzy, tired, and suffering from muscle fatigue and cramps. Water has been known to give you a boost in metabolism which is associated with a positive impact on your energy levels. Staying hydrated while you exercise replaces the fluids lost when you sweat. Exercising in the heat without proper hydration can result in serious medical conditions like hyperthermia and decreased blood pressure. Extreme dehydration can cause seizures and even death.2 One study found that drinking 500 milliliters of water boosted the metabolic rate by 30% in both men and women.3 These effects seemed to last over an hour.

For intense exertion, there are sports drinks on the market that can help to avoid dehydration as well as water. The nutrients, potassium and calories can provide electrolytes and energy to aid in endurance. Be careful when choosing a sports drink though, as many of them contain added sugar, high levels of sodium and caffeine. If you consume too much caffeine in your drinks and your diet, it can act as a diuretic and cause you to urinate with too great a frequency. The body, in any form of exercise, can work optimally with just water as the key hydration fluid.

woman stopped on run drinking water

Water makes you SMARTER and less stressed

It’s a well-known fact that not drinking enough water can affect you physically, but it’s a lesser known fact that it can significantly lead to cognitive decline and poor brain function. Drinking water helps you focus and concentrate better since your brain is 60% water and strongly influenced by your hydration status. If our water levels are too low, our brain cells cannot function properly because they depend on water to carry out essential functions. Water carries nutrients to the brain and helps brain cells communicate with each other. According to a recent study4 from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, just a couple of hours of vigorous activity in the heat without drinking fluids can greatly affect concentration. If you become dehydrated, you can struggle with coordination and complex problem-solving. However, the ability to react quickly to a situation did not seem to be impaired. “The simplest reaction time tasks were least impacted, even as dehydration got worse, but tasks that require attention were quite impacted,” said Mindy Millard-Stafford, PhD, director of the exercise physiology laboratory, a professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Biological Sciences.

Women of all ages are more sensitive to the effects of dehydration, but senior women tend to be especially susceptible. A study5 examining the hydration status of 2,506 adults over age 60 found that women with inadequate levels of hydration showed worse performance on cognitive tasks related to attention and processing speed. Although men tested showed some slight impairments when dehydrated, it was significantly less than women. Research has shown that even mild dehydration may have a negative impact on your moods and can actually heighten anxiety.6 When you don’t drink enough water the dopamine and serotonin balances in the brain are thrown off, and too much or too little of these natural chemicals can affect depression and anxiety. Drinking a glass or two of water can quickly improve your mood and literally calm your nerves. So if you want to solve the daily Wordle, beat the other residents at bridge or just maintain a positive mood and attitude, it’s imperative to stay hydrated at all times, particularly as you age.

happy older woman with older man drinking glass of water

Keep it moving!

Not only can this miracle liquid improve performance and mental acuity, but it can “keep things moving” in the digestive system and prevent constipation. The colon needs water to do its job, so one of the most common causes of constipation is dehydration, as extra fluids help keep the stool soft and easy to pass. When you don’t drink enough water, the colon pulls water from stools to maintain hydration, resulting in constipation. In order to keep things flowing along your gastrointestinal tract, drink plenty of water every day. If you’re already constipated, consuming a large glass of water may trigger a bowel movement. If you dread drinking water especially when plugged up, try adding a lemon wedge to your glass as the citrus can help to stimulate your colon. Drinking water on an empty stomach is especially helpful as it aids in cleansing the bowel and creates the urge to regulate your digestive tract and move the bowel. If you’re looking for a natural laxative and aren’t a fan of sawdust tasting fiber, once again, give water a try.

wooden art person sitting on roll of toilet paper

Not tonight dear I've got a headache

Before you reach for the Advil or Tylenol to treat your headache, first grab a glass of cold clear clean water. It is often impossible to determine what brought on a pounding headache, but research has shown that hydration is one of the most common causes. A study of 393 people found that 40% of the participants experienced a headache as a result of dehydration.7 You need to hydrate in order to treat a headache triggered by dehydration, as the root cause is the body didn’t get enough fluids. Begin by taking small sips of water and you should begin to feel relief in one to two hours. A dehydration headache can cause dizziness, dry mouth and extreme thirst. For many it can feel like a hangover headache, with pulsing pain on both sides of the head that’s aggravated by movement. Most importantly, as you rehydrate to relieve your headache symptoms, stay in a cool environment and rest. While drinking water alone may not get rid of every headache, it can surely reduce the severity. So if your head is throbbing, head for the tap before you pop over the counter meds!

You do not want to find yourself watching a video call, while checking your email, while listening to a podcast. This is simply too much for you to process at once, and it distracts you from completing a task with a focused mindset.  

If you make a to-do list, you can check each task off one by one. This way, you can give your maximum focus to each task at hand. Focusing on individual tasks leads to better productivity, as you will not be attempting to complete multiple items at the same time.

Next time you catch yourself trying to accomplish too much at once, slow down and write down your responsibilities. Then, prioritize your list so that you tackle the most important task first.

woman has a headache with her hand on temples

"Pure water is the world's first and foremost medicine." Slovakian Proverb

It is generally recommended that you drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, the 8 x 8 rule. Although the science varies in differing studies, it’s universally clear staying hydrated is important.8 We’ve examined a few significant ways water can change your life, but these are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Staying hydrated can also help you sleep better, improve your complexion, promote weight loss, raise your metabolism, detoxify your system and help your kidneys rid your body of toxins. In this overprescribed world we live in, we risk daily negative drug interactions and overmedication to treat a myriad of health concerns. Incorporating water into your daily routine is a non-invasive and cost-effective way to combat all of the challenging medical concerns life has to offer. Bottoms up!

pouring water from a pitcher into a glass