Perhaps one of the most frequently overlooked and undervalued recommendations for good health is to drink more water. I suppose the fact that it is such a simple substance makes it seem inconsequential. We all know we need to drink water – and most of us know the standard recommendation to drink 8 glasses a day, but I am quite confident that people who are actually sufficiently hydrated are still in the minority. We may not be so dehydrated that we need to be hospitalized, but our bodies are certainly not operating under prime conditions.
Why Do You Need to Drink Water?
According to Know Your Body – The Atlas of Anatomy by Emmet B. Keeffe, M.D. (2001), the body is made up of approximately 70% water overall, with certain tissues, such as the brain, containing as much as 85% water. Water makes up 80% of the body’s blood, which of course is responsible for transporting nutrients throughout the body. Water is therefore instrumental in the proper and effective functioning of every system of the body: the circulatory, digestive, excretory, and musculo-skeletal systems to name a few. Without water, blood circulation is compromised and we become lethargic, we get headaches, we don’t think as clearly. Without water, we become bloated and constipated and toxins are not properly eliminated from the body. Without water, muscles and joints become stiff and prone to injuries and inflammation.
In spite of the obviously essential need to drink sufficient amounts of water, various studies (1 & 2) show that 10-24% of the American population does not drink plain water at all and the majority of the remainder do not drink enough. It’s really no wonder that so many of us have chronic “little problems” when we don’t properly supply our bodies with the one thing that they are mostly made up of: WATER.
One man, Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, based his life’s work on what came to be called “The Water Cure.” He believed that water was “the missing natural element from the body that prevents and helps to cure painful degenerative diseases.” His book, Your Body’s Many Cries for Water boldly asserts that “you’re not sick, you’re thirsty.” Some find his claims to be a bit far-reaching, but I believe that he’s on to something at least in terms of preventative healthy habits. I am doubtful that every case of major disease can be prevented or cured simply by drinking more water, but I am confident that every case of major disease, as well as the aches and pains that plague us before disease manifests itself, can be improved and/or prevented by properly caring for the body to begin with.
To go as far as to say that simply drinking more water could cure what ails us may be taking it a bit too far, but we are all genetically predisposed for certain health risks. Properly caring for the body so as not to open the door for those problems to develop seems an easy and prudent choice. Joshua Rosenthal, author of Integrative Nutrition: Feed Your Hunger For Health & Happiness, points out that “we can go for a month without food, but we can live only two or three days without water.” It follows that adequate hydration is one key component for properly caring for our bodies and a very easy thing for those of us with easy access to clean water to address.
How Much Water Should You Drink?
Recommendations for how much water you should drink vary from one source to the next, but a good rule of thumb for determining your daily requirement is to aim for 1/2 – 1 oz. of water per pound of body weight. Simply put, to calculate your minimum daily requirement in ounces, divide your weight in pounds by 2. For example, a 200 lb. man should aim for 100-200 oz. (~12-25 8 oz. cups of water) on a regular day. Variations in factors such as climatic conditions (e.g., extremely hot, dry days) and exertion levels (e.g., engaging in intense exercise) may require an adjustment in the body’s water needs.
How Can You Drink More Water?
Like any other change in our habits, increasing water consumption can be an adjustment, but the troubles it may cause seem a small price to pay for something so important. Here are a few common sense pointers to help you get started:
- Don’t try to drink your daily quota all at once – spread it evenly throughout the day. Most people are awake for more than 12 hours/day. If you divide your water needs evenly over 12 hours, you’ll find it’s really not that much to drink at one time.
- Set an hourly reminder on your phone or your computer to help you establish your new healthy habit.
- Fill up an appropriately sized pitcher in the morning and aim to empty it before the day is over.
- Don’t drink all of your water right before bed – you’ll be up all night!
- If you want a little flavor, drop in fresh or frozen fruit and/or herbs and let their juices naturally flavor and sweeten your drink a bit. Feel free to get creative!
Why Should You Drink Plain Water Instead of Other Drinks?
Quenching thirst with drinks other than water, such as soda, coffee, and processed juices, satisfies our body’s signals to get a drink, but these drinks are neither nourishing nor hydrating. Such drinks contain calories (mostly from sugars) void of nutrition that are not balanced with the beneficial fiber and nutrients needed to slow the metabolism of sugars. This puts us at increased risk for obesity, diabetes, fatigue, skin problems, and more. In addition, these drinks act as diuretics (which means they increase urination), resulting in dehydration rather than hydration.
For some people, overcoming addictions to high-sugar and/or caffeine-laden drinks such as soda, coffee, and processed juices can be very difficult and even painful. If you need to, begin by cutting your consumption in half or even just by a fourth every other day – whatever pace you can handle to reduce withdrawal symptoms and ease into cutting them out completely. In so doing, you will eliminate unnecessary and unhealthy sugars, stimulants, and additives from your diet and leave room for your body to fill up with the water it needs instead.
Increasing water, especially before and during a meal, can even help with weight loss. To some degree, the brain doesn’t differentiate between whether the stomach is full of food or water, so filling up with water can help to achieve a feeling of fullness and cut down on over-eating.
A Healthy Habits Challenge to Drink More Water
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has told myself more than once that I need to make sure I drink more water and then proceeded to ignore my own wisdom. So how about if we work together a bit? There’s nothing like a little peer pressure to keep us motivated, right?
At first I was thinking a simple social-media-style accountability challenge would be fun…but then I found a better idea. Sometimes doing something for ourselves or even to show our friends we can do it isn’t enough. What if we could collectively improve our own health AND provide clean water to people who can’t simply walk to the sink to get a glass of water?
There are far too many people living in a less ideal world where water is not available or is so dirty that it will only make them sick. I’d like to be a small part of changing that and I invite you to join me to make our combined impact something greater. In the spirit of Psalm 82:3, let’s do something to help the poor and the oppressed. Through our love, perhaps their hearts can be open and led to the living water that their souls need even more desperately.
What do you think? Will you help me help someone else while improving your own health? Here’s the challenge: For two weeks, drink no beverages other than water. (Please, only tap or filtered water as bottled water is too expensive and wasteful.) Set aside all the money which you would normally have spent consuming beverages. Donate the money to help build a water project with The Water Project in villages where there is no clean or safe water. I’ve checked into the integrity of The Water Project and believe they have an effective and financially responsible approach to improving lives in communities suffering needlessly due to lack of access to clean water, but I encourage you to do your own research. It’s easy to donate – just go to my Water Project fundraising page or click on the donate button below.
UPDATE 10/10/2015: Our project is underway! With your help, the Mituvu Secondary School in Kenya will soon have a new source of safe, clean water. A new rainwater harvesting tank is being constructed to store water through the dry season to help ensure the students always have the water they need. The school and community will also receive training in sanitation and hygiene. Together these resources will go a long way toward stopping the spread of disease in the area. THANK YOU!! Follow the progress of the project>>