Water is by far the most essential element our body requires. We can live without food for weeks. But merely days without water.
The adult body is made up of approximately 60% water. And, every living cell requires water to function. But beyond the obvious need by our cells, why is water so vital?
The importance of water
- Removes waste from the body – Water is required to eliminate waste and impurities whenever you sweat, urinate or move your bowels.
- Helps maintain normal body temperature – Because water has a high heat capacity, the cells in your body use it to protect you from sudden temperature changes (1)
- Weight loss – Water can help you feel fuller and eat less when consumed before a meal. One study showed a 44% greater decline in weight loss by subjects who consumed just 500 ml of water before a meal over those who drank nothing. (2)
- Lubricates and cushions joints – Water helps reduce the rate of friction between bones, preventing degeneration and damage.
- Reduces headache pain – Studies have shown that increasing water intake can reduce the severity of headaches for short periods. (3)
- Protects sensitive tissues – Water helps move nutrients through your internal organs and tissue. It also helps regulate the temperature of your organs.
How much water should you be drinking
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine determined that an adequate daily fluid intake is:
- About 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men
- About 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women (4)
Although plain water is the cheapest and easiest way to get your daily intake, there are other options. Juice, tea, milk, and coffee are all sources of water that can help you reach your daily requirements.
Also, many foods contain a high-water content. Watermelon, spinach, strawberries, cucumbers, lettuce, and broccoli are mostly water. If you are eating right you are probably getting at least 20% of your daily requirement from food.
However, sports drinks and energy drinks are not a good source of water. Sports drinks can be beneficial after a long, intense workout to replace lost electrolytes, but are unnecessary other times.
Factors to consider
While the 11 - 15 cups of water recommendation is a sound guideline, other factors determine how much you actually need.
If you live in a dry, hot climate you should probably drink more to stay hydrated. Also, if you live in high altitudes you risk dehydration. Rule of thumb: if you feel thirsty drink more water.
During intense exercise you sweat a lot of water out of your body. Make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise to replace what you lost.
Oftentimes during illness, your body may lose fluids. It is important to stay hydrated when you are ill.
During pregnancy, it is recommended women drink 10 cups of water daily and 13 cups if they are breastfeeding.
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