Friday, August 17, 2012

Staying Hydrated

It’s summer, and a very hot one at that, so it’s important to stay hydrated (a classy word that now replaces the simple concept of drinking enough water).  This brings up the question of how much water we should drink.  It’s a simple question and in this busy world it’s always nice to have a simple answer, a rule of thumb.  The problem is that people often take these rules and follow them as if they were strict regulations.  They walk around with their oversized bottle telling you 64 ounces (8 cups) is the rule, but it’s not as cut and dried as that.  When simple questions don’t have simple answers, it’s time for some research and some critical thinking.

We need water to keep our bodies functioning properly.  Dehydration can lead to serious problems, but too much water can also be dangerous (see my March 19, 2012 posting).  According to this Johns Hopkins newsletter, “Contrary to popular belief, no research exists that says exactly how much fluid we should drink. However, many experts suggest that healthy adults should strive for six to eight 8-ounce servings of liquid a day.”

Those who cling to the rule are adamant that only water counts, but that's not necessarily true either.  “Hydration can come from a variety of sources, including fruit or vegetable juice, nonfat milk, low-sodium soup, even coffee or tea. Many fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, berries, grapes, peaches, tomatoes and lettuce, are almost 100 percent water. Even meat is chock full of water. Water from foods typically accounts for 20 percent of the recommended total fluid intake.” 

You need more water when you exercise, when it’s unusually hot, when you are having digestive or urinary problems or when you are sick.

This short article puts it simply:  “there's no magic to this [64 ounces] number. And the right amount varies according to your activity level and size; just drink enough water so that your urine is clear.”  A slightly more detailed explanation comes from the Mayo Clinic.

It would be nice to have easy-to-follow rules of thumb for all life’s decisions, but that’s usually not the case.  That's why critical thinking is so important.  If we practice on little things like this, it becomes second nature when faced with bigger decisions or when outside influences try to win our dollars or support with simplistic platitudes or slogans.  Developing the habit of challenging this rule-of-thumb approach is one step toward moving America in a positive direction.

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