Go with the Flow
There you are. A candlelit dinner for two. He reaches into the ice bucket, pulls out a carafe and fills your long-stemmed glass with . . . water.
What's all this? Just a colorless, no-cal liquid that packs a hefty age-erasing punch. Water is very much a part of us. Present in every cell and tissue, it plays a vital role in almost every biological process from digestion to respiration to circulation. It transports nutrients throughout the body and carries harmful toxins and waste products out of the body. It regulates our body temperature. And it lubricates our joints and organs.
Because water does so much, the body needs a constant fresh supply. "Water needs to continuously flow in, through and out the body," says Diane Grabowski, R.D., a nutrition educator with the Pritikin Longevity Center in Santa Monica, California. "A minimum of two to three quarts are eliminated daily in our urine, sweat and breath, all of which must be replaced."
That's just to meet our minimal health needs. Getting plenty of water is essential for a woman to maintain everything from youthful skin to strong muscles. "Consistently meeting your daily fluid needs makes all the organs in your body function better," says Grabowski. "It's a key ingredient if you want to look, feel and perform at your very best."
Draining Your Assets
Unless you're a camel, your body can go only about three days without water before calling it quits. But don't think that dehydration occurs only when you're as dry as a bone. You can be technically dehydrated even if your internal fluid levels dip just a bit below normal.
Ordinarily, this is no problem, because your sense of thirst will holler, "I need some water . . . NOW!" But sometimes your thirst-detecting powers can't keep pace with other factors, such as hot weather, high altitude, exercise--or age. And yes, our sensitivity to thirst begins to diminish as we get older.
When you become dehydrated, you lose water and valuable electrolytes--essential minerals in water like potassium and sodium. This can leave you feeling especially tapped out. "When your body gets even a little low on fluids, physical performance and brain power can hit the skids," says Miriam E. Nelson, Ph.D., a research scientist and exercise physiologist in the Human Physiology Laboratory at the U.S. Department of Agriculture Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Boston. "Long before you experience the sensation of thirst, your body can produce symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, headache and flushed skin. All of these conditions are caused by an increase in body temperature."
Frequent or long-term dehydration can really leave you high and dry, causing an irregular heartbeat, an unsteady gait, difficulty swallowing and shortness of breath. Extreme cases of dehydration can produce shriveled skin and lips.
Dehydration can sneak up on you. You could be dangerously dry and not even know it. Keep an eye out for these danger signals.
* Dizziness, fatigue
* Weakness, headache
* Flushed skin
* Dry mouth
* Loss of appetite
* Blurred vision, hearing loss
* Difficulty swallowing
* Dry, hot skin
* Rapid pulse, shortness of breath
* Unsteady gait
* Extremely frequent urination (especially if you haven't been drinking fluids and the urine is cloudy and deep yellow)
Fill 'Er Up
The faucet isn't your only source of water, though. Experts recommend that we need to consume six to eight eight-ounce glasses of liquid a day. This can mean six to eight glasses of water, juice, broths or other beverages.
"Heavier people require more, so a good rule is to try to drink about one-half ounce for each pound of body weight," says Grabowski. If you weigh 160 pounds, that means ten eight-ounce glasses per day. You'll also need more if you're dieting, living in a hot or dry environment or suffering sick with fever, vomiting or diarrhea, all of which can rob your body of its fluids.
Water is everywhere, so it's fairly simple to keep up your fluid intake. Here are some tips to get you started.
Greet the day with a glass. As you slept, your poor body went for hours without water. So pour yourself a glass after you wake up, says Grabowski. Don't rely on your morning coffee. Though stimulating, it can be dehydrating because it's a diuretic.
Keep it up. Don't try to guzzle your entire daily intake at once. You'll feel like you're bursting at the seams and, because your body can't take such a fluid overload, you'll excrete more, says Grabowski. Instead, take frequent water breaks--about one every hour or two--so you're constantly hydrated. Drink even more if it's hot or humid or if your eyes, mouth or skin feel dry.
Eat regularly. Much of your daily fluid intake comes during meals. Eat plenty of water-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables and always have water or another beverage with your meal, says Grabowski.
Skip alcohol and caffeine. Booze, beer, coffee, tea and colas are diuretics--that is, they encourage fluid excretion. These beverages may quench your thirst initially, but they ultimately draw fluids out of your body, says Grabowski.
Avoid water-sapping foods. Salty foods can dry you out, says Grabowski. If you must have them, limit your intake and make sure you drink plenty of fluids.
Watch those laxatives. Using laxatives frequently can draw an enormous amount of water from the body and disrupt the normal function of your digestive and elimination systems. These shouldn't be taken regularly unless you're under a doctor's care, Grabowski says.
Don't toss the pulp. Home juicing machines provide a great means for getting your daily fluids, says Grabowski. But some of these gadgets completely separate the juice from the fruit or vegetable pulp, the part that contains the greatest concentration of fiber as well as additional nutrients and water. Put some of that pulp into your glass.
Managing Exercise and Fluids
A woman can sweat away two quarts an hour when she exercises or plays sports, especially if it's extremely hot and humid, says Dr. Nelson. That's why active women need to pay attention to their fluid needs. Keep these tips in mind.
Drink before, during and after. Drink 8 to 20 ounces of water an hour before your workout, says Dr. Nelson. "Body size and the temperature of where you will be exercising affect the amount of water that you should drink. The larger you are and the hotter it will be, the more you need," says Dr. Nelson. However, don't overdose on water; this will result in poor performance, warns Dr. Nelson. Symptoms of too much water intake include an uncomfortable bloated feeling and stomach cramps. As you exercise try to drink up to 1/2 to 3/4 cup of water every ten minutes. Afterward, drink as much as you need to stave your thirst.
Hop on a scale. How much should you drink after exercise? If you weigh yourself before and after you exercise, you'll find out how much water you lose. For every half pound you lose, drink eight fluid ounces, says Dr. Nelson.
Go beyond thirst. Even if your immediate thirst feels quenched, your body's fluid reserves may not be adequately refilled, says Dr. Nelson. Play it safe and take a few additional slurps. A few minutes later drink some more, and so on, for about an hour afterward.
Cool it. Cool water will lower your body temperature faster than warmer water. It's also dispersed much faster to the parched tissues of the body, Dr. Nelson says.
Adjust to your environment. If you come out of an air-conditioned building on a hot day and immediately try jogging five miles, the shock to your system will draw more water from your body than if you slowly accustom yourself to the outdoor heat, Dr. Nelson says.
Block the sun. Direct sunlight on a hot summer day will dry you like a prune, says Dr. Nelson. If you exercise in the heat and sun, wear a hat and light, loose-fitting clothing that breathes and lets in cool air. "If you feel dizzy or disoriented, stop exercising immediately," warns Dr. Nelson. Find some shade and fluids to help cool your body temperature.
Ease into it. If you haven't been exercising, don't try to take on an advanced exercise program. Because you'll have to exert yourself more, you'll sweat more than someone who is in better shape. To avoid dehydration risk, start your workout program slowly, get used to exercising and gradually increase the intensity. This will go a long way in helping your body to regulate its fluids and body temperature, says Dr. Nelson.
Use sport drinks sparingly. Sport drinks, which are rich in the electrolytes we lose when we exercise, are often touted for their replenishing abilities, and many of them do make excellent fluid sources. But you certainly don't need a sports drink for every workout. "After a workout or if you need a pick-me-up during a game, they can be a big help, but they are no more effective than water, which is what your body is really thirsty for," says Dr. Nelson. The only time these drinks have an advantage over water is if you have just come off an extremely draining workout, such as a marathon or two hours of tennis in the hot sun. Then you may need an immediate electrolyte boost.