Not drinking enough can quickly have negative physical and mental effects on a person, therefore it is important to regularly drink water for optimum hydration. Despite the universal acceptance on the importance of hydration, people across our blue planet, at all ages, live their lives at levels of hydration significantly below what leading organizations recommend. What can we do to make sure we’re really drinking enough across our entire life?
MOST OF US understand that hydration is crucial for our health. This has been proven through dozens of independent studies, showing at even mild levels of dehydration our physical and emotional abilities can be significantly affected. In fact, the functionality of several organs, our cognitive ability and our mood are hindered to an alarming degree if our body’s total water content drops by as little as 1%.
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In light of this you may find it surprising that across the world, at all stages of life, most live in a status quo of dehydration. This is seen across all ages from childhood through to becoming a senior citizen. Not only does this stop our body and our mind performing to the best it can, for those of an older age this can have serious and life threatening implications.
Two obvious questions arise when you consider the extent of this problem. Firstly, why? Why are we not drinking enough water across all stages of our life? When you review research that has been carried out across the USA and Europe you begin to understand that there are valid and natural reasons why this is the case. Secondly, and the more important question is, what can we do to help people of all ages drink more water? The purpose of this article is to take a detailed look at the research and advice available to provide practical answers to both of these questions.
Why is the world dehydrated?
IT'S NOT ALL doom and gloom, things are getting better. In the United States people are drinking more water now than they were 30 years ago. However, the average American still only drinks 1.8 cups a day which is significantly less than the 8.5 cups a day that are recommended by the European Hydration Institute, who are one of the world’s leading organizations on human hydration.
One of biggest reasons behind this under consumption is that the human body can become dehydrated more quickly than most people think. It takes only a 2% loss of total water content for your body to start feeling thirsty. Once you’re at this point your body is already in a state of dehydration, increasing the likelihood of experiencing a variety of symptoms that have been scientifically linked to how hydrated you are, such as:
It takes only a 2% loss of total water content for your body to start feeling thirsty. Once you’re at this point your body is already in a state of dehydration.
Symptoms related to dehydration are broad and can vary significantly based on what stage you are in your life. All these issues are easily solved by doing one simple thing, drinking more water. In fact, the British Nutrition Foundation clearly states that regular H2O is the best thing to drink to keep yourself hydrated whether you’re young, middle aged or elderly. It's worth emphasising this fact, as although all liquids will hydrate the human body, some do a much better job than others. Water and fruit juices, for instance, hydrate more effectively than milk and soda drinks.
With such a simple solution it makes it surprising to know that dehydration amongst children is a commonly worrying occurrence.
Dehydration at Schools, Colleges and Universities
KEEPING CHILDREN HYDRATED can have many health and educational benefits. A study in 2012, carried out by The Natural Hydration Council, a leading expert in hydration, showed that hydrated children can outperform dehydrated children in exam conditions, due to improved visual attention and fine motor skills. In terms of physical health, if your child is enrolled in a sport, their risk for dehydration is much greater and increasingly important as it can lead to a decrease in performance by as much as 5%.
Despite these clear benefits, independent research has shown that a staggering 54.5% of children go to school dehydrated across the USA. This can not only cause health effects already highlighted, it also means children may be negatively impacting how well they can perform in school, due to inadequate hydration.
There are many reasons why children may not be hydrating themselves to the optimum level. One reason is down to our biological maturity. When we are at a young age, the human body’s thirst mechanism and heat awareness is under developed. Children will often not feel thirsty, despite the fact their body needs to cool itself down or is dehydrated. Also for many hydration is an afterthought, with so much stimulus throughout a school day, from playing with friends to learning in classrooms, drinking plain water may slip their mind.
When we are at a young age, the human body’s thirst mechanism and heat awareness is under developed.
To give those at a young age the best chance of staying hydrated the British Nutrition Foundation provide the following advice:
If parents or guardians want to give their children the best chance at a healthy living and to perform their best at school, hydration can have a significant influence. When parents instil in their children a positive attitude towards the importance of hydration, the children are then able to take that lesson with them as they grow older. This is crucial, as research has shown that it’s not only children who are regularly dehydrated but adults as well.
Dehydration in Adults
EVEN AS WE leave education, find careers and start families, the majority of adults do not hydrate themselves close to the recommended level. In the USA 75% of adults suffer chronic dehydration, drinking only 2.5 cups a day on average. This problem is also experienced in slightly varying degrees in other countries such as France, Australia and Germany. The inevitable effect of this is that most of us are missing out on many benefits that can be gained from keeping our bodies hydrated.
Keeping a high body water content can help you better regulate your body temperature and keep yourself cool so that you don’t overheat. Dehydration in hot temperatures can cause heat exhaustion which may result in headaches, nausea and heatstroke. Drinking the right levels of water can even help reduce obesity. A study carried out at Michigan Medical School, USA, has shown that there may be a correlation between being dehydrated and having higher body mass index (BMI) levels. This becomes less surprising when you consider that drinking water has been proven to reduce hunger and temporarily improve your metabolism by 24-30%.
If you’re only mildly dehydrated you’re 114% more likely to make an error, which is similar to drinking low levels of alcohol.
Possibly the most surprising study on how dehydration can negatively affect adults is the research carried out in the UK by Loughborough University. The results proved that if you’re only mildly dehydrated you are as prone to errors while driving as if you’d drunk low levels of alcohol. In fact, you're 114% more likely to make an error if you're dehydrated.
Despite the negative health and cognitive effects of dehydration most adults go through their daily lives in this state. It seems illogical that this happens when staying hydrated, for most of those living in developed countries, is so simple. To help ensure that you’re more hydrated on a daily basis take a look at this advice from Rebecca Zamon, senior Editor at the Huffington Post, that provides some great ideas to help you drink more water every day:
If you can get into a habit of staying hydrated as an adult you’re far more likely to stick to this as you get older. This is especially important, because when you’re elderly staying hydrated can sometimes mean life or death.
When you’re elderly staying hydrated can sometimes mean life or death.
Dehydration and the Elderly
As we become older it seems that hydration becomes even more of a challenge. In fact, in The USA dehydration is in the top 10 reasons for hospitalization for those at an old age1. It’s not a surprise this occurs when you consider the following statement from the British Nutrition Foundation “Older people are vulnerable to dehydration due to physiological changes in the ageing process”. Unfortunately, there are a broad range of reasons why we are at a higher risk of dehydration as we get older:
Older people are vulnerable to dehydration due to physiological changes in the ageing process.
In many cases dehydration can cause a reduction in cognitive ability, acute confusion and various other health problems. The biggest concern however, is that in some cases the side effects are far more serious. Research published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging in 2015 actually proved that a senior patient’s mortality rate increased depending on their level of dehydration.
In many cases dehydration can cause a reduction in cognitive ability.
For those that are that are elderly it’s crucial for those around them, family, friends and carers to lend a hand and act when they recognize that an older person isn’t as hydrated as they should be. A recent systematic review2 carried out in the UK during 2013 set out some simple strategies to help encourage those in care to stay hydrated. These included:
At this later stage in our lives hydration can actually become a matter of life and death. Yet, as with all stages of our life, dehydration is still rife amongst the elderly. This problem seems senseless when there are so many ways that we can encourage those at an older age to drink more often.
DESPITE MANY OF us drinking more water than ever before, the majority of us still live in a constant state of chronic dehydration. As proved by dozens of studies across the world, this occurs across our entire life time. From when we’re at school, as we grow into adults and carried on with us till death, dehydration always endures. Dehydration can lead to issues with how our brain and body perform, whether during exam environments, driving vehicles and even our own body weight. The biggest concern is just how poor our relationship with hydration is, when you consider that dehydration is something that can be easily fixed with a simple glass of water.
1Sheehy, CM, Perry PA, Cromwell SL. Dehydration: biological considerations, age-related changes, and risk factors in older adults. Biol Res Nurs. 1999; 1:30-7
2D. Bunn, O Jimoh, S. Howard-Wilsher and L. Hooper 2013
Popkin BM, D’Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, Hydration and Health. Nutrition reviews. 2010;68(8):439-458.
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