We know we can’t survive without water, yet for so many of us, getting enough every day is still a real struggle. Learn why you should be taking dehydration seriously, and the steps you can take to make hydration a habit.

Water is critical for life.

It helps to keep essential physiological functions around the body running, like regulating  metabolism, transporting waste, lubricating joints, and dissipating excess body heat.

For this reason, while we could survive without eating food for several weeks, we can live without water for only a few days.

Water makes up the majority of our body, from as much as 75% body weight in infants to 55% in the elderly.

As vital as water is to our basic day to day functioning, many questions still swirl regarding how much of it we really need, but certain facts about hydration are unquestionable.

It is crucial to pay attention and make sure you are getting enough water to stave off the real risks of dehydration.

What happens in our body when we are dehydrated?

The water in our body is constantly in a state of turnover, which means that we are continuously gaining and losing water throughout the day.

We lose water every time we go to the bathroom, breathe out, and sweat, and gain it back when we drink or eat. So what exactly happens when our body detects that we are dehydrated?

The delicate balance of water volume in our body is regulated by vasopressin (AVP), a hormone responsible for managing our kidneys’ handling of water in order to keep a steady amount of fluid at all times.

When even a slight dip in our water intake is detected, our AVP is quickly activated.

As a protective measure, water is taken from inside our cells to the surrounding areas of fluid around them, causing the cells to shrink.

This shrinkage then sends a signal to the brain to both activate the feeling of thirst and instruct the kidneys to produce a smaller amount of concentrated urine in an effort to conserve.

This is why you should not wait to feel thirsty to drink water. Thirst is usually a sign that you are already dehydrated.

How getting enough water helps to maintain our health

Staying hydrated can help keep us feeling good in all kinds of ways.

Drinking enough can decrease our chances of a urinary tract infection, and can keep us mentally sharp.

It can also help to enhance our athletic abilities. Even mild dehydration, a loss of less than 2% of our body weight, is shown to impair both exercise performance and the way our body is able to respond to heat.

While we exercise, losing body water through sweating is a critical process that helps to control the body’s temperature by cooling the skin in hot climates.

If we sweat but forget to compensate for the water loss by drinking more water, we can quickly become dehydrated, leading to reduced endurance and motivation, and greater fatigue.

Keeping hydrated can also be credited for keeping our immune system going strong.  The body’s membrane barriers like the skin and mucous membranes that are key for keeping viruses and bacteria at bay are less effective when they are dry due to dehydration.

Dehydration may also put stress on the sympathetic nervous system, which regulates the immune system and inflammation responses.

How much water should I drink?

There is actually no straightforward answer to this common question.

The link between the amount of daily water you need, the amount you drink, and the amount of energy you need to live is pretty complicated and is determined by a number of factors, like how active you are, the amount of other fluids you drink, your metabolism and body composition, your gender, and your age.

For this reason, there is no real gold standard of ideal water intake for everyone, or even for most people.

But many use the following guideline to know how much water drinking to aim for every day:

Drink between half an ounce to an ounce of water for each pound you weigh. So, if you weigh 130 lbs, try to drink between 65 and 130 ounces of water per day.

Interestingly, we do not only get our fluids from drinking - we also hydrate by eating food.

In fact, it is estimated that about 22% of our water intake comes from food. As expected, most fruits and veggies are 70 to 90% water, but you might be surprised to know that pasta and chicken breast are 60 to 69% water, pizza is 40 to 49% water, and cheddar cheese and bread are 30 to 39% water.

Fun ways to boost your daily water intake

Finding it hard to stick to a regular water drinking routine? Drinking water does not have to be boring. Follow these tips to make your new water drinking habit gratifying and enjoyable.

Play around with the temperature. Ice cold water might be satisfying to drink on a hot summer’s day, but do not limit your water glass to only frigid temps.  Many people find it easier to guzzle down water that is room temperature instead.

Love your water bottle.  You will be way more apt to drink on the regular if you love the container it is in. Invest in a quality water bottle you are comfortable carrying around and drinking from on a regular basis.

Track your intake. Some bottles have markings showing the number of ounces you drink along with the hour of the day, making it effortless to keep track of how much you are getting in.

Download a hydration app for your phone. Cut out all the guesswork of knowing when to drink by checking out the engaging apps available that will remind you to reach for your water every 20 minutes - or whatever interval you choose. It is also motivating to visually see your progress as the day progresses.

Liven up your water. Plain water is all good, but sometimes you need a fresh take on the water you are sipping. Infusing plain water with slices of orange, lemon, lime, cucumber, mint, or ginger can really make the drinking experience more inviting. A splash of fresh fruit juice can also keep you reaching for more.

Tie drinking with a daily routine. Many of your daily habits are a given, like brushing your teeth, eating meals, and using the bathroom. Why not use this to your advantage by committing to drinking each time you do them?