As we here in Chicagoland experience a heat wave, your body may have reminded you once or twice that it needs more water than usual. While there’s nothing surprising about experiencing thirst in the summer, it may surprise you that as we age, our bodies become less effective at producing thirst signals, putting good health at risk. Dr. Tanquilut of Vascular Specialists is here to explain how drinking enough water is important for overall health, and vascular health in particular.
An adult male human body is about 60% water and an adult female is about 55% water, which means staying hydrated is vitally important to our health and wellbeing. Just by sleeping and breathing, we lose about three cups of water each day, as the air we exhale is moistened by our lungs and throat. Overall, throughout the day, we lose about 10 to 12 cups of water with normal light activity. If you’re out in the hot weather or are more active, you’ll lose even more.
Becoming dehydrated frequently can become a serious health problem. When fluids lost through the day are not replaced, the balance of salts and sugars in the body is upset. You’ll feel fatigued, dizzy or lightheaded. Aches and pains become more pronounced. People who are dehydrated urinate less often and urine will be a darker color with a more intense odor.
As we age, the body holds less fluid in reserve and also sends fewer thirst signals so dehydrating events occur more frequently. Fluid intake requires extra attention as both the temperature and our age climb upward.
Your blood is about 90% water, so proper hydration plays a significant role in the vascular system. The amount of water in our bodies regulates blood pressure, promotes vascular function, and keeps the fluid dynamics of the heart pumping.
The impact of persistent dehydration on the vascular system makes us more prone to vascular disease. Proper hydration can alleviate arterial stiffness and improve blood pressure, promoting a healthier vascular system. When dehydrated, blood flow becomes sluggish and your risk of vascular disease increases. Dehydration increases inflammation signals, which constricts blood flow and increases the likelihood of plaque formation, leading to atherosclerosis. When water levels decrease, blood serum sodium levels increase. High levels of serum sodium indicate an increased risk of heart failure, particularly in older patients.
As we age, proper hydration depends on us overcoming a series of compounding obstacles. We keep less water available in our bodies. We don’t experience thirst as intensely. We can’t take in large quantities of fluid at once. We experience illnesses and rely on medicines that dry us out even further. All of those variables exist before we even consider the sweltering weather outside.
The solution to dehydration is amazingly simple: increase your fluid intake. Drink more water. Adults should drink between 12 to 15 cups of water, or about 2 to 3 liters, each day.
Not feeling thirsty? Thinking “my goodness, that’s a lot of water?”
While you may not feel thirst, your body truly needs water in these amounts. Take a few swallows at 15-minute intervals throughout the day instead of trying to get all of your water in just 2 or 3 instances. You can also increase your fluid intake by eating fruits and vegetables high in water content. Enjoy celery, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, peaches, oranges and watermelons. Help your body promote more efficient water storage and usage by avoiding caffeinated coffee and teas, regular or diet sodas, energy drinks, alcoholic beverages and “detox” teas and drinks. Water is absolutely the best choice for hydration.
In hot weather and as we grow older, we must pay more and more attention to hydration needs. Drinking enough water, or eating enough water-rich foods, is vitally important to both vascular health and your overall wellbeing.