Healthy and hydrated: Maintaining fluid balance for optimal health

Staying hydrated is key for body functions and optimal health. Find out how much water is needed and tips for staying hydrated.

January 31, 2013 - Author: Christy Rivette, Michigan State University Extension

Water is one of the most important nutrients that your body needs. Every cell, tissue and organ in your body consists of or uses water to function, with about 75 percent of muscle tissue and about 10 percent of fat tissue comprised of water. Water is used to regulate body temperature, cushion and support your joints and organs, and aid in digestion. You also lose water through everyday body functions such as perspiration, using the bathroom, even when you exhale. It is important to replace the water your body loses each day. Generally, the body can go several days or longer without food, but can only survive a few days without water because it is so essential to body functions.

There isn’t much guidance on the recommended amount of water that is needed daily. Generally speaking, a person’s thirst mechanism is what regulates hydration in the body and most people get an adequate amount of water just by paying attention to that mechanism. It is suggested that the average person loses about 10 cups of water every day, which should be replaced. This could be water consumed through what we drink, which is where most of our water comes from, or through foods that have high water content, like celery, tomatoes, oranges and melons. Staying hydrated and drinking even before you are thirsty is essential because thirst is a sign of dehydration. One thing to keep in mind is that these recommendations do not take other environmental factors into consideration, such as living in a hot climate, if you are physically active, have a fever or have symptoms of vomiting or diarrhea. When you experience any of these conditions, staying hydrated is even more important and increasing fluid intake may be necessary.

What can you do to stay hydrated? The following are some tips from Michigan State University Extension on how to replace water lost and replenish fluids in your body:

  • Drink water before, during and after exercise. The American Council on Exercise provides more information on staying hydrated while being physically active.
  • Carry a water bottle with you for easy access to drinking water while at home, work or on the go.
  • Fill a freezable water bottle half-way with water and freeze it to keep water cold throughout the day.
  • Choose water over sugar-sweetened beverages, such as fruit drinks, sport drinks and regular or non-diet soft drinks. It is better for hydration and can also save money and calories.
  • Liven up water by adding citrus wedges, cucumber or some other sliced fruit or vegetable. If the taste is more pleasing, you will probably drink more.
  • Contrary to popular belief, scientific research suggests that caffeine does not affect dehydration, so moderate amounts of caffeinated beverages such as coffee may be appropriate.

It is important to note that some health conditions require that a person restrict their fluid intake, such as kidney disease. Follow your healthcare provider’s advice on fluid intake if he or she has told you that you need to limit your water intake. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides more information on staying hydrated. Another resource for health and nutrition information is your local Michigan State University Extension office.

Tags: food & health, msu extension, nutrition

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