Water Water Everywhere…and plenty to drink.

“A man of wisdom delights in water.”    –Confucius

“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”  –W.H. Auden

“When the well is dry, we’ll know the worth of water.”  —Benjamin Franklin

“If everyone drank enough water, I’d be out of a job.”  —an anonymous pharmacist

As I write in mid-February 2021, the entire Midwest is in the deep-freeze with a lingering sub-zero cold snap not seen in years.  Staying warm and safe is everyone’s priority, as it should be.

The promise of spring has never failed us, and I am certain this year will be no different.  Summer always follows spring, and this frigid spell will be a distant memory.  Most of us will be hot and sweaty, and reaching for an ice-cold water to quench our thirst and cool our bodies. 

In February, however, when the temperatures have struggled to get out of the negative readings, most of us don’t feel too thirsty.  And, unless we remind ourselves, most of us don’t drink enough water in the winter. 

When we exert ourselves and sweat, we need more water to replenish lost hydration.  We feel thirsty; it is our body’s signal to drink more water.  In the winter months, however, we typically don’t exert ourselves as much, don’t sweat as much as we do in the summer. 

Our needs for hydration are still strong, even when we don’t feel thirsty.  We shouldn’t decrease our water intake in the winter just because we aren’t sweating.  We still need plenty of water. 

How much is ‘plenty?’  The standard 8-8 oz. glasses of water daily isn’t a bad guideline, if your weight is about 130 pounds.  A 130-pound person has a lot less body tissue to hydrate than a 250-pound person does, and we all need to drink according to this formula:  half of your body weight in ounces of water daily.

As a professional who deals with disorders of the voice in my speech pathology practice, our first line of treatment with most voice disorders is to ensure that the patient is drinking enough water. Again, ‘enough’ is defined by the formula above. This is our professional recommendation, and I was delighted to read recently that a certain highly-acclaimed NFL figure includes this exact formula in his regimen for optimum health.  

The importance of drinking ample amounts of water cannot be denied for good health for him, or for any human body.  The human body is composed of greater than 50% water, the exact amount depending on multiple factors such as exact body part, age, level of intake and general health.  Keeping this balance is essential for good health, and it must be replenished daily.

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For those of us who wear glasses in these mask-wearing COVID times, we know how easily our glasses fog up with a mask on.  This is the moisture in our breath, the moisture that can potentially carry the virus, as well as many other viruses and maladies.  We lose moisture every time we breathe, and, unlike sweating, we breathe all winter long, all day, every day. 

Water serves multiple functions in the human body, including:

  • helps the brain manufacture hormones and neurotransmitters
  • flushes body waste, mostly in urine
  • lubricates joints
  • regulates body temperatures through respiration and sweating as noted above
  • helps deliver oxygen through the body
  • comprises almost 100% of cerebrospinal fluid to cushion brain and spinal cord
  • aids in digestion, beginning with saliva

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“But I don’t like to drink water,” I often hear when I make these recommendations to my patients.  My response is multifaceted, with these points stressed:

  • Some things that are good for us are hard habits to form at first, such as exercise, but when you commit to making them a habit, you will likely wonder how you functioned before you did it.
  • Physiologically, biologically and logically, water is an essential need for the human body.  There is no getting around this.  Coffee and tea or any other caffeinated beverages don’t count in this figure, they actually enhance dehydration.  So, you must drink extra to compensate.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy these beverages, just add extra water, and be aware that they put you ‘in debt,’ rather than helping to hydrate. 
  • Adding lemon juice or fresh lemons may make water taste more palatable.  I have even enjoyed cucumber slices in my water from time to time, or fresh oranges, or limes in slices add a flair to plain water.
  • As childish as this sounds, it works for me, and I am an educated, grown woman:  since the adult brain works like a toddler at times, bribing it with shiny, fun toys can help.  I am motivated to drink more from that cool-looking water bottle I just bought.  If you think this might work for you, then buy that cool bottle…
  • Some people struggle with bladder issues, and this is a very real problem.  If it is mostly at night, be sure to consume most of your water in the afternoon.  Drinking on a relatively empty stomach is best, and small sips during meals are best to keep the digestive juices in the saliva at their maximum concentration.
  • I enjoy several cups of coffee each morning, and if you enjoy coffee or tea, then by all means keep drinking it.  As I mentioned above, adding extra water to offset this is important.  I realized, about 11:00 one morning several years ago, that I had yet to drink any water for the day, and this was my normal pattern.  I started a new pattern then, with equal amounts water and coffee.  I do the same if I enjoy a glass of wine.  This helps keep the balance. 

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If you are not drinking enough water, then the formula I gave is likely very daunting.  Start small and slow.  Fill a pitcher with the recommended amount, and for the first few days, drink what you normally do to see how much you really do drink.  Increase the amounts slowly, perhaps adding 8 ounces each week.  You many never consistently reach the recommended amount, but anything closer to that is a step toward better health.   The only exception to this rule is if your health care provider has put you on fluid restrictions, and this should always prevail. 

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When I review the medical chart of a new inpatient before I see them for speech or swallow therapy, I pay close attention to their list of diagnoses.  Too often, ‘dehydration’ is one of them.  Please don’t let it ever appear on your medical chart.  Better yet, drink more water and improve your health in every way you know you need to, and you will decrease your chances of having an inpatient medical chart.