Why we should drink more water (all year round)
At birth, we are about 78% water; by the time we reach adulthood this has fallen to 55% (women) and 60% (men). Other side-effects of ageing also affect how we use, and lose, water. Muscle mass naturally decreases with age, and as that’s where much of our body’s water is stored, we retain less of it, and our kidney function also tends to deteriorate over time, which means our urine is less concentrated, so we lose more water with each loo visit. We’re also less aware of the sensation of thirst as we get older.
What does water do for us?
Throughout our lives, water is used in all of our cells, organs and tissues. It helps us regulate our temperature, by sweating, keeps our eyes, nose and mouth moist, as well as lubricating and cushioning joints. Water prevents constipation and urinary tract infection, and helps us break down our food and absorb its nutrients, as well as digesting soluble fibre, and allows us to excrete waste by sweating, urination and defecation.
Are you getting enough?
The fact that we can survive for only three days without water demonstrates how vital it is. Symptoms of dehydration include – guess what? – feeling thirsty, passing urine that’s dark yellow and smells strong, peeing infrequently and fewer than four times a day, dizziness or lightheadedness, feeling tired, dry mouth, lips and eyes.
Dehydration can occur more easily if you have diabetes, overindulgence in alcohol, copious sweating after exercise, overexposure to the sun, a raised temperature (over 38°C), or you’re taking diuretic medication. Combinations of these factors make us dehydrated faster. For example, when exercising in a hot climate we can lose 1.5 to three litres of water an hour as sweat.
Ask anyone how much water we should drink each day and they’ll probably say ‘eight glasses’ or ‘two litres’. However, this isn’t universally agreed. The NHS recommendation for daily fluid consumption is six to eight cups/glasses, equivalent to around 1.5 to two litres, which includes water, low-fat milks and low-sugar and sugar-free drinks; the European Food Safety Authority recommends two litres (three-and-a-half pints) of total water (including that in food) a day for adult women and 2.5 litres (four-and-a-third pints) a day for adult men.
Needs vary from individual to individual so you should be guided by feeling thirsty, and by the colour of your pee, which should be clear to very pale yellow.
If you’re concerned that constantly knocking back water will leave you needing to get up in the night for a wee (a side-effect of menopause caused by reduced oestrogen), try drinking more earlier in the day, then tailing off. Take a water bottle with you when you’re out and about; you can refill it free in lots of places – download the Refill app to see where.
And if you’re worried about water retention, drinking more water actually reduces it, by helping the body to excrete excess sodium, which causes water retention.
Ways with water
If you don’t like the taste or smell of tap water, try filtering or flavouring it. In 2019, we spent more on flavoured water than plain H2O, but commercially produced, flavoured water can contain sugar and/or sweeteners, acidity regulators, plus preservatives. And let’s not forget all those single-use plastic bottles – currently more than three billion of the 13 billion sold every year are incinerated, or end up in landfill or as litter.
And as for those ‘iced tea’ teabags marketed especially for your water bottle… just use an ordinary ‘hot tea’ teabag of your choice with cold water, or hot water left to cool.
There are loads more ways to flavour water: just add…
• a couple of slices of lemon, lime, tangerine, satsuma, clementine, orange, kumquat, grapefruit
• a sprig of fresh mint, rosemary or lemon balm
• a few berries
• sliced fresh root ginger
• slices of cucumber
• any combination of the above
Freeze chunks or slices of fruit to flavour the water and keep it cool, in your glass or water bottle. (Bonus: you’ll always have ‘ice and a slice’ ready for your G&T.)
Adrienne Wyper is a health and lifestyle writer and regular TNMA contributor.