On television and in magazines, online and on billboards are advertisements for products claiming to be essential for good health. However, when searching for a magic elixir, the ultimate preventive medicine, the fountain of youth, the substance humans literally cannot do without, the clear answer is water. That colorless, tasteless, calorie-free combination of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom covers 70 percent of Earth and comprises 60 percent of the human body. Daily consumption of it is required for the body to function properly. The great news is adequate water intake lessens, prevents, or cures many ills. Best of all, it is refreshing, plentiful, and virtually cost-free.
Blood is made up of 90 percent water. This means that water, through blood, is the transmitter of oxygen, minerals, and nutrients throughout the body. Dehydrated blood causes insufficient blood flow, which, in turn, negatively affects blood pressure and the function of every organ in the body. Water is responsible for keeping the brain healthy and operating properly. Without sufficient water, the brain cannot produce necessary hormones or maintain neurotransmitters. A healthy water supply in the brain supports mood and concentration. Studies show that even mild dehydration impairs cognitive performance and disposition. Dehydration also induces adverse changes in vigilance and working memory and increases tension, anxiety, and fatigue.
Water is the body’s air conditioner. When the body heats up, water stored in the skin rises to the surface as sweat. Sweat then evaporates, cooling the body down. Those who live in hotter climates require more water to keep cool. The need for temperature balancing water is especially important during exercise. Proper hydration results in better performance during physical pursuits. Depending on a person’s fitness level and how strenuous a workout, the National Athletic Trainers’ Association recommends drinking 17 to 20 ounces of water two to three hours prior to exercise and 7 to 10 ounces every 10 to 20 minutes during exercise. Drinking water post-exercise is necessary as well, especially following a lengthy or strenuous session, to replenish the body’s water supply.
Water supports the work of cartilage in the body. Cartilage, which contains 80 percent water, acts as a natural shock absorber by cushioning the body’s joints and the disks of the spine. Eyes, nose, and mouth also benefit from water’s lubricating qualities. In the mouth, water helps form saliva, which aids in the breakdown of food and with chewing and swallowing. As it is ingested, water helps clean the mouth. It also flushes impurities from the skin, helping to prevent skin disorders and premature wrinkles. Those who seek glowing skin might forego expensive potions and treatments and try drinking plenty of water instead.
The body’s airways are dependent upon water. When dehydrated, airways constrict to conserve water, making it harder to breathe. Those with allergies and asthma particularly suffer when this occurs. Likewise, water is necessary for proper elimination of bodily waste. The kidneys clean toxins from the blood, transforming waste to urine. When kidneys are not properly hydrated, toxins and excess fluids build up in the body, causing high blood pressure, fatigue, headaches, and back pain. Digestion is also dependent upon an adequate water supply. Water helps acids in the stomach break down food, allowing nutrients to disperse into the body. It also helps prevent constipation.
Water’s role in digestion is related to one of its most popular perks: weight maintenance and loss. Drinking a big glass of water prior to a meal is known to curb appetite. Also, as discussed, consuming plenty of water helps cleanse the body of toxins and waste, resulting in weight loss. It can be hard to tell the difference between hunger and thirst. Both cause dizziness, headache, nausea, and irritability. So, it pays to start with a glass of water and see if the symptoms go away. Starting with water rather than food decreases calorie consumption.
One question about water consumption arises often: how much is enough? The standard answer is eight 8-ounce glasses per day, but the amount is affected by other factors such as climate, elevation, and activity level. Athletes and the otherwise very active should increase their intake. Too much water, however, causes hyponatremia. Hyponatremia occurs when the body’s sodium levels become too low, which can be very dangerous, even deadly. This electrolyte disorder is commonly associated with marathon runners. Long distance runners and other ultra-athletes must understand proper water consumption to ensure a healthy balance.
In addition to helping in physical pursuits, water also smooths the side effects of adult fun. This miracle elixir, when consumed properly, can reduce or eliminate the chances of suffering that most heinous of self-inflicted injuries: the hangover. Drinking plenty of water prior to an evening out, as well as alternating water with alcoholic beverages, practically guarantees a pain-free morning after. You can still enjoy a Bloody Mary, but it will be a choice rather than a necessity.
Meeting the eight-glass-a-day goal is easy enough. All it takes is a little strategy. Some simply tick off the servings on a phone app, in a food journal, or on a simple sticky note. Others may wish to schedule their water consumption at certain times during the day. Drinking one serving before each meal, one serving with each meal, and one at both ends of the day easily meets the mark. Bottles can be found with measurements on them, allowing you to see progress at a glance. The trick is using a method that matches your lifestyle.
Not everyone loves to drink water. It is important to note that not all water used by the body comes in plain, liquid form. It also comes from fruits and vegetables in a healthy diet. However, when drinking water, you do not have to stick with what comes from the faucet. Carbonated water and teas work just as well. The perfect way to start a day is with a cup of green tea. It improves brain function, boosts metabolism, and provides antioxidants. At the end of the day, a cup of chamomile tea aids digestion, reduces anxiety, and promotes sleep. Other water sources include skim milk, almond milk, soy milk, coconut water, and aloe water. Watery fruits and vegetables are appealing options for adding water to one’s diet. Choices include cucumbers, strawberries, cantaloupe, peaches, watermelon, lettuce, zucchini, celery, tomatoes, bell peppers, cauliflower, and cabbage.
Bottled waters, including flavored ones, are a huge industry. Consumers can become easily confused by the mind-boggling options, with their claims of vitamins, nutrients, electrolytes, and other add-ins. You must be an expert label reader to decipher contents and shy away from unpronounceable additives, sugars, and sugar substitutes. Some are laden with sodium, caffeine, and chemicals that have detrimental effects on the body.
To remove the guesswork, whip up a homemade recipe popularly known as water infusions. Thankfully, there are no wrong answers when it comes to making infused water. It is simply a matter of personal taste. In nearly any box store, you can find special water bottles and pitchers designed to mix water and fruit; however, a special container is not necessary. Infused water can be made in any glass, bottle, or pitcher — simply mix the ingredients and refrigerate for a few hours.
For a hint of flavor, use less fruit or vegetables, shorter infusion times, or both. For more flavor, use the opposite approach. Muddling the add-ins intensifies flavor, too. Using plain or sparkling water, you can add fresh strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Cucumber is another popular and hydrating water additive. When using lemon, remove the peel if refrigerating for longer than four hours to avoid bitterness. The best part is once infused water is consumed, the add-ins can be enjoyed as well.
Make cucumber-infused water by slicing one whole cucumber into a half-gallon of water. Delicious add-ins to cucumber water include lemon, a few fresh mint leaves, one cup diced watermelon, 1-2 teaspoons culinary lavender, a handful of basil leaves, or a few sprigs of rosemary. For more dynamic flavors, you can combine cucumbers with lime and watermelon, tangerine and thyme, or lemon and cilantro. Detoxifying infused waters include combinations of lemon, blueberries, and culinary lavender; peach, apricots, and melon; cherries, strawberries, lemon, and dried hibiscus flower; apple, celery, and lime; and lemon, goji berries, cranberries, mulberries or raisins, and a teaspoon of açaí powder. Hydrating infused water combinations are strawberry and basil; grapefruit and rosemary; raspberry, blackberry, and mint; cantaloupe, honeydew, and lime; pineapple, ginger, and mint; and orange and blueberry.
Consuming sufficient water during the day is absolutely necessary for good health. Thankfully, as many ways to enjoy water are available as benefits from drinking it. Plenty of fun, creativity, and experimentation is to be had when concocting water infusions. They are delicious and pretty in a glass. Water helps athletes perform at their best and keeps everyone cool. In Columbia’s famously hot months, this is a must. Great skin, a sharp mind, and a well-functioning body are all possible — and free — just add water!