While hydration may seem like a simple concept, there is a wealth of misinformation surrounding the proper way to wet your whistle.
Particularly as the weather heats up and people begin to spend more time in the sun, knowing how to hydrate efficiently can make your summer activities much more safe and comfortable.
One common myth surrounding hydration is the idea that everyone needs to drink eight cups of water a day, said Chelsea Sanders, a registered dietician at Canyon Vista Medical Center (CVMC).
“That’s not really the case,” she said. “A lot of people need more — it depends on activity level, age, gender, things like that. So (hydration) is a little bit more in depth that 8-ounce glass of water. And you need to take into account the fluid that’s provided in the food that we eat, especially fruits and vegetables.”
Some beverages hydrate the body better than others, Sanders continued. Carbohydrate-laden sodas and sugary fruit juices don’t provide the same replenishing sodium and potassium that water and sports drinks do.
Another misconception is that caffeinated beverages, such as coffee and tea, dehydrate you, said Sanders.
“Caffeinated beverage really aren’t as bad as we think they are. A study compared people who drink caffeinated beverages compared to people who drink the same volume in just water, and there’s no really different levels in their hydration level,” said Sanders. “For an athlete, it’s probably not a great idea to drink only caffeinated beverages, because they’re a diuretic, but for an everyday person, it’s ok to have caffeinated drinks and have that as a fluid.”
So what is the best way to hydrate?
Unless you’re exercising intensely, plain old water should do the trick, said Sanders. While how much you need depends on a number of factors, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends drinking 3–8 ounces of water every 15–20 minutes that you’re exercising, and if you’re exercising for more than 60 minutes, drinking sports drinks, she said.
“If you are out in the sun, if you’re outside for more than an hour doing intensive exercise, then sports drinks are appropriate,” she said. “But to drink it to replace water for an everyday activity, that’s not really a great thing because (of the sugar.)”
It is easier to become dehydrated in warm weather, which can lead to a dangerous situation, especially if you are hiking or camping in the desert. Daniel Olea, a firefighter and EMT with Sierra Vista Fire and Medical Services, said there are several things to keep in mind if you want to avoid making an emergency phone call for yourself.
“People don’t realize that having extra layers does cause more release of sweat, more release of water from your body,” said Olea. “People like to wear long sleeves during the summer to prevent sun exposure, but extra clothing can be a factor (for dehydration.)”
So how do you know when you’re getting dehydrated?
Signs can be so mild that many people don’t realize their bodies are low on water at first, said Olea.
“First, of course, is increased thirst — you’re going to have a dry mouth, you’re going to get a little bit tired, you might experience a headache, and you’re going to have dry skin, because you can’t sweat out fluid,” he said.
Getting into the shade or into an air-conditioned building and drinking water or sports drinks can “easily reverse” mild to moderate dehydration, said Olea. More dangerous is severe hydration, which means it is time to call 911 immediately, he said.
“When you look at severe dehydration, you begin to experience confusion, you begin experience rapid heart beat, and orthostatic hypertension — so when you stand up from a sitting position your blood pressure drops. Severe cases would be unconsciousness,” he said.
In order to avoid becoming dehydrated, Olea recommends dressing appropriately, particularly if you are working or hiking outdoors, “water loading” (drinking a lot) before beginning an outdoor activity, and making sure you bring plenty of water or sports drinks with you on an excursion. Making yourself drink water, even if the weather is cool or you don’t feel thirsty, is also important, he said.
“Dehydration is something that is very to get in Arizona, so it’s very important to be drinking water no matter what you’re doing, even if you’re indoors all day,” he said. “It can happen to anybody.”
Want to learn more?
Thrive, a Wellness Center at CVMC will be hosting a free class on Simple Hydration, given by Sanders and CVMC registered dietician Anna Keefe, this Thursday at 5:30 p.m.
“(We’ll talk about) why water is important, the signs and symptoms of dehydration, the composition of your water, needs for age, gender, and what to do if you don’t like water,” said Sanders. “So we’ll have samples of fruits you can put in water to have that flavor permeate into the water, and then we’re going to talk about water content in food, so those kind of things.”