Most people, especially around the hot, summer months, begin trying to get near some water. Lakes, rivers and beaches are very popular places to spend a few days away from “regular life”. Just as water provides a great recreation area, it also provides life for us mammals. The importance of staying well hydrated, especially in summer months, cannot be underestimated.
The amount of water and fluid in your body is something few people think about until there is a problem — problems can occur with too much or too little. A basic guide for figuring the basic amount of oral fluids a person should be drinking is based on weight. A 20 kilogram (44 lbs) person should be taking in about 1500 mL per day. For those of us that weigh more than that, just add 20 mL of fluid, per day, for each additional kilogram. A person weighing 150 lbs (68 kg) should be drinking about 2.5 liters of water, providing there are no prior medical conditions that limit water intake, daily. This is more than most people I know drink, and they are not doing fun stuff like playing at the beach, hiking or exploring a new city on a hot summer day. The people that are exerting themselves in hot climates need to pay attention to how hydrated they are.
There is no easy way to say this, but one of the most effective ways of judging your hydration status is to check the toilet. How often are you urinating and what color is it? Early doctors used to taste patient’s urine as part of their analysis. You can skip that part and just see if your urine is a nice, clear color or darker yellow. Darker yellow urine may mean that your are dehydrated. When somebody becomes more and more dehydrated, they begin to urinate less and less. Oh, don’t try to fool yourself by thinking “I am going to pee all the time, I am fine” if you are drinking alcohol. Alcohol is a diuretic and makes you urinate more, but leaving you further dehydrated.
Most everybody who is active in hot weather locations should think about at least getting the minimum daily fluid intake. Those who are really active, like im an outdoor sport, hauling heavy bags around the streets or even just sitting in an extra warm room, may want to think about increasing their daily intake of water above the minimum requirements. I call this “maintenance plus one-half” and it is just like it sounds. If you should be drinking a minimum of 2 liters per day, it should be upgraded to 3 liters per day. Some ultra-endurance athletes are required to drink 10 liters of more to compensate for their body’s losses!
Electrolytes help regulate the body’s balance between acidity and alkalinity, as well as help to control water movement in the body. Glucose, or sugar, is vital in helping water move from the intestines to the blood stream. As water is consumed, it goes to the intestines. From there, the water molecules are absorbed through the intestinal wall into the blood stream. When there is also glucose in the intestines, the water molecules can travel across the tissue wall faster and get into the blood stream, where it is most needed. This is the basic principle of why Oral Rehydration Solutions (ORS) and sports drinks are so effective in treating dehydration.
You can make your own ORS with water, a few pinches of salt and 2 spoons of sugar added to one liter of water. You can also add some fruit juice to the water or even cut up pieces of fruit, like a banana, for some additional electrolytes such as potassium.
The key to battling dehydration is to first be aware of the symptoms an keep and eye out for them and second, to be aggressive before symptoms become more severe. Check with your personal health care provider about how much water you should be drinking and ensure that you have no underlying conditions that could be made worse by oral rehydration. Remember that in hot environments, it is all about the water.