Is Drinking Water Important?
Public health authorities have made inroads in convincing Americans that drinking water is very important for good health. From the late 1970’s to the late 1990’s, people in the United States were drinking more soda than water per capita, with soda consumption peaking in the late 90’s (source: Beverage Digest).
Since then, soda consumption has been declining, while water intake has increased. This trend was helped greatly by the introduction of small, portable plastic water bottles that are convenient and easy to carry. Today, Americans drink more water than any other beverage.
But the numbers could be better yet, as Americans still drink an average of many gallons of soda every year (44 gallons per person, according to a 2013 study, vs. 58 gallons of water per person).
There are at least three huge problems with sodas:
First, even the natural kind contain a lot of sugar which many health experts blame in large part for the epidemic of excess weight and obesity in the U.S.
Second, most sodas are not natural and contain an assortment of artificial chemicals (diet sodas even more so), which don’t in any way nourish a person but could only spell possible illness down the road.
Third, unlike water, which can be gotten directly from your tap in most cities and can be filtered to remove chemicals and improve taste, sodas always need to be purchased from a store, which uses up fossil fuels, as well as materials like aluminum to make the containers.
Why Is Drinking Water Good for Us?
Water is a vital fluid for us, as it helps propel our body’s diverse processes. It aids in digesting foods and absorbing nutrients. It transports nutrients in the blood, pushes them into cells and carries waste out of cells; it also serves as building material for new cells.
Water provides a moist environment for the mouth, ears, nose, throat and gastrointestinal tract — and indeed, for all cells of the body, including the bones. Water also helps to regulate body temperature, it cushions delicate body parts like our brain and spinal cord, and it cushions and lubricates joints.
Our bodies are made up mostly of water: 60 percent for the typical adult male. Fatty tissues contain less water than lean tissues; being that females usually have a higher percentage of fat than males, a woman’s body is about 55 percent water.
The lungs are about 83 percent water; muscles and kidneys are 79 percent water; the brain and the heart are 73 percent water; the skin is 64 percent water; and bones are 31 percent. (Source: U.S. Geological Survey Water Science School.)
It is essential to maintain water levels up on a daily basis, to promote good health, especially considering that we continually lose water from our bodies through breathing, evaporation from skin, urine and stool formation.
The kidneys work hard to rid our bodies of waste products; but when we don’t drink enough liquids, their job becomes much more difficult. In such cases, urine will become more concentrated, darker and stronger in odor; that means the kidneys have conserved water for vital processes. Likewise, when we’re dehydrated, the colon will reabsorb water from the stool, which can contribute to constipation.
How Much Water Should the Average Person Drink?
Most of us have heard the recommendation to drink 8 8-oz glasses of water a day. This is a general suggestion, and individual requirements can vary. The Institute of Medicine has determined that men should drink about 13 cups (3 liters) of liquids per day, while women should drink about 9 cups (2.2 liters) of liquids per day.
That seems like a lot of fluids; but it isn’t, as it includes all liquids we consume in a day: water, juices, milk, as well as the fluids in the foods we eat, such as soups. Also, fruits and vegetables have water in them, with many having lots of it (examples: tomatoes, celery, melons, oranges).
As a rule of thumb, a person should drink water — or juice or tea or what liquid they prefer — whenever they’re thirsty, and with their meals. But one should make it a point to drink just plain water many of those times: you don’t want to load up on calories or chemicals from consuming a lot of other beverages.
We should also drink more water before and during exercise, when the weather is hot and at higher altitudes. In addition, older adults may need to be reminded to drink water, as their sense of thirst may diminish with age (but their bodies still require it).
Pregnant or nursing women will also need to drink more water, to stay hydrated.
When someone is sick with diarrhea, vomiting or a cold or flu, they will require more water/liquids, as well.
What If You Don’t Like Plain Water?
Some people find that they just don’t like the taste of plain water, even when the water is purified or of good quality. You may have this problem if you’re not accustomed to drinking lots of water. Well, all you have to do in that case is commit to drinking more water, and by doing so, you will find that you will accustom your body to a good thing; after a while, you will actually crave water and thirst for water every day.
When you want to drink water with a meal, but you don’t want plain water, mixing a couple of ounces of fruit juice with your water will give you a light, lightly sweet beverage that will go great with your food. Or you can seep unsweetened tea in hot water.
It’s also a good idea to carry a bottle of water everywhere you go; that way, when thirst hits or when it’s time to eat, you’ll have your water with you, and you won’t resort to drinking sugary drinks.
Your Body Needs More Water When You Drink Alcohol
Having one alcoholic beverage for women and two for men will probably not cause your system to lose much excess water; but consuming more alcohol will disrupt the communication between the brain and the kidneys — the pituitary gland tells the kidneys how much fluid to secrete in urine — causing more fluid to be removed from your system. That can lead to dehydration.
If you find that you have consumed more than 1 or 2 alcoholic beverages, it is a good idea to drink additional water. Some experts recommend drinking one glass of plain water for every alcoholic beverage that you consume. This will help prevent dehydration, as well as some problems that can come with drinking, such as headache.
Drinking Hot Water for Your Health
Like cold water feels good going down on a hot day, hot water feels great on a cool day. And there are actually health benefits believed to come from drinking hot water — just be careful not to burn your tongue! It is a good idea to just let the water cool down for a bit after you heat it up.
In Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines, drinking hot water is credited with doing wonders for the digestion, speeding the elimination of waste, improving blood circulation and other benefits. Yes, it’s true many people enjoy a hot cup of coffee or tea at different times in their day; but here, we are talking about drinking just plain, hot water (or hot water with some fresh lemon juice squeezed into it; the lemon juice further promotes the absorption of nutrients and helps cleanse the gut).
While cold or cool water will help digest the foods you’ve eaten, hot water will speed up the process all the more. Natural medicine advocates point out that when we drink cold water with our meals, the fats in the foods we eat can harden and be left behind in the digestive tract. By drinking hot water, we help these fats to be metabolized along with other nutrients.
Drinking hot water is also credited by some with slowing the aging process, by encouraging the body to remove more waste.
When it comes to slowing aging, water in any temperature will help, of course, by aiding elimination of waste, as well as hydrating tissues, including the skin. Many people believe that one of the keys to good skin is to drink plenty of plain, good water.
By Cynthia Sanchez. A graduate of the University of Washington, Cynthia has extensive experience writing about health and wellness topics for different media.