Are you thinking about making changes in your life to become a healthier person but don't quite know how to get started? Perhaps your doctor has suggested eating healthier, exercising and losing weight, but it all seems so overwhelming. Many of us already know what we should be doing, but implementing all of those pieces of information can be quite a challenge. Too often we embark on a new diet or exercise plan only to give up after a few days or weeks because it seems too difficult. Well, worry no more. You have arrived at the ideal place to help you make those changes. We are going to develop new habits, one week at a time. Health, exercise, and nutritional goals have been broken down into small, manageable steps. Each week you will add one new habit and have seven full days to perfect it before moving on to the next one. This is not a traditional diet and exercise plan, but rather a journey towards a permanent healthy lifestyle. The steps may seem small at first, but collectively they add up to major improvements in one's overall well-being. In just 52 short weeks, you will be amazed and proud of the changes you have made. You will look back and see just how far you've come on your quest to be a healthier YOU. Now, scroll down in the archives to January 2011/Week 1 and let's get started.... Then, follow each week's tip to a healthier YOU!
If it is starting to sound like a broken record around here with the "drink more water" mantra... well... all I can say is, "Drink more water!" This is the third post on the site having to do with water so I hope it is becoming clear how important hydration is for your health. At this point, you are already drinking at least four glasses of water per day -- one before breakfast and one before dinner, as well as one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon. Time to add two more glasses to our schedule: one after breakfast, and one after lunch. Easy enough? It may begin to feel tedious trying to remember each glass at the specific time; one way to approach it is to purchase a water bottle which can hold up to 32 ounces, and sip 8 ounces at each strategic time of day refilling as necessary. Personally, I like the ones that have the ounces clearly marked on the side of the bottle. As you chug your water, you can see the progress you are making towards your ultimate goal of six to eight glasses per day*. If you choose a wide-mouth bottle such as the one pictured below, it is easy to fill it with ice. You can also fit sliced lemons, limes and oranges if you enjoy your H2O with a citrus twist. On the other hand, some people feel intimidated by the "giant water bottle" approach -- they feel overwhelmed at the thought of getting through all that water and prefer instead to fill and drink a single 8-ounce glass at a time. Either method is fine as long as you are getting it in.
In previous posts, we examined some of the reasons why water is so important to our health. You will recall that the human body is made up primarily of water (almost 75%) and that water is essential to every vital bodily system. It transports life-giving nutrients, minerals and salt throughout our bodies, cleansing and purifying as it moves along. It also helps regulate body temperature, keeps joints lubricated, and aids in digestion. You will also recall from our first post about water, the jury is still out when it comes to how much we actually need each day. Expert opinions vary widely on how much water to consume, whether or not only pure drinking water counts (or all beverages including coffee, tea, soda, milk, etc.) and for that matter, does the water obtained from food -- which accounts for nearly 20% of our total daily fluid intake -- count?
In 2004, a noteworthy event occurred when the Institute of Medicine (IOM), a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, made an official recommendation about water intake for healthy individuals. It was the first official recommendation of its kind and is especially significant because it came on the heels of the U.S. government's Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) conclusion that "it is impossible to set a water recommendation." (1) The IOM study concluded that the recommended daily fluid intake is 91 ounces for women and 125 ounces for men. That translates to more than ten 8-ounce glasses of water for women and nearly sixteen for men! Keep in mind though that this recommendation was for the total daily fluid intake, not just pure drinking water, and included fluid from all beverages as well as water obtained from food. While this still doesn't tell us exactly how much pure water to drink, one can see that drinking six to eight glasses per day is probably reasonable for the average American adult.
Research is lacking in this area because it would clearly be unethical to deprive humans of water in order to conduct the studies. The average person can live for more than 30 days with no food, but only 4-5 days without water. Dehydration can lead to severe medical consequences so it would be quite difficult to conduct controlled studies. Additionally, our bodies have an amazing ability to adjust to varying levels of hydration -- whether overhydrated or underhydrated -- and this makes it especially difficult to determine cause and effect in the short term. Most of the research is confined to the effects on athletes after sports' performances. While this is helpful, it does not necessarily translate to the general population. Athletes are in the unusual position of losing extreme amounts of water through sweating in a short amount of time. Most of us become gradually dehydrated over a period of many hours and days.
So where does this leave us in terms of understanding how important water really is to our health? Doctors, researchers, nutritionists, and other health professionals rely on clinical evidence, anecdotal observations and assumptions. Because dehydration occurs at the cellular level, all bodily systems have the potential to be affected negatively. We release about 2.5 liters of water per day through respiration, perspiration and digestion. If this water is not replaced we start to run a deficit and mild dehydration begins. Early symptoms of dehydration include thirst, loss of appetite, dry skin, dark-colored urine, fatigue/weakness, chills, sleepiness, headache and dizziness. As dehydration progresses, more serious symptoms develop such as increased or decreased heart rate and respiration, decreased sweating and urine output, elevated body temperature, extreme fatigue, muscle cramps, headache and nausea. And there is an almost endless list of medical conditions that dehydration is known to exacerbate including asthma, allergies, constipation and digestive disorders, diabetes, eczema, chronic fatigue, headaches, high blood pressure, kidney stones, menopause, obesity, osteoporosis, respiratory problems, and stroke. Many experts believe that something as simple as proper hydration could greatly reduce the complications associated with these conditions. An estimated 80% of the American population does not drink enough water. Are YOU part of that group?
This week, challenge yourself to get in all six glasses of water every day! One upon awakening, one after breakfast, one mid-morning, one after lunch, one mid-afternoon, and one before dinner. And of course, if you are exercising you should be drinking extra water as necessary to quench your thirst. By spreading your water intake throughout the day you are ensuring optimal hydration.
"Water sustains all."
~ Thales of Miletus
* The goal of six-eight glasses per day is the recommendation for healthy adults. Always check with your doctor first, especially if you are taking medication or suffer from heart, kidney or pulmonary disease.
1. Hydration Needs Throughout the Lifespan, http://www.jacn.org/content/26/suppl_5/585S.full