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Water is important year round, and especially during the hotter, drier months of summer. And if we're staying fit with exercise and sweating, we need to maintain our hydration. When we eat more water content foods, as with fruits and vegetables also containing minerals, this keeps us better hydrated. Let's review the keys to healthy water balance.

1. Proper hydration with water is essential. Most of us need at least six to eight 8-ounce glasses of good, clean drinking water daily. Coffee, alcohol, and sodas or other sugary beverages do not count toward our daily two quarts of liquids as they do not hydrate our tissues and often have the opposite effect, causing dehydration. Water is the best choice for proper hydration. However, herbal teas and fresh juices do count because of their high water content; furthermore, fresh fruits and vegetables in the diet do add to our water intake. Water is second in importance to air, which we need by the minute. We can survive about a week without water, whereas most of us can live as long as six weeks without food. Water supports our immune system and flushes toxins from the lymph system and body. Our bodies are about 70 percent water that’s 10 to 12 gallons! In fact, brain and muscle are about 75 percent water and blood is 85 percent water content. Except for bone and fat tissue, most of our body is water.

2. Finding the right water balance for each of us is also important. This is based on our body size, level of physical activity, exercise and sweating, the local climate, and our diet. A diet that is dry and high in proteins and fats creates a need for even more water to flush these foods healthfully through our system. The average American drinks only 4.6 servings/cups of water a day, or 36 ounces. That’s a bit shy, especially when most of us do not consume our share of fresh fruits and veggies. Water drinking should be a habit, something we do without having to think about it. Only one third of Americans claim they drink eight glasses of water a day; 28 percent have three or fewer servings, and nearly 10 percent say they don’t drink water at all. The most frequent reason given by Americans for not drinking water is lack of time, as reported by 21 percent in a recent survey. Like anything, preparation saves time and allows us to engage in these healthier habits. Prioritize water hydration. And during hot weather, drink two to three more than usual When we have a cold, or for many illnesses and symptoms, like headaches and allergies, it is helpful to hydrate the body fully with water and herbal teas. We can know this by our urinary output, generally every couple hours during the day.

3. Exercise! I will always tell you to move your body! Create a consistent and sometimes challenging program. It’s so important to your health. And remember that when you exercise regularly and sweat, you need more fluid replacement. Drink before (two cups one–two hours before) and after your workout (one–two cups), and during exercise if it’s appropriate. Drink cool temperature water, and don’t depend on thirst to tell you; drink anyway! Take your walks, go on hikes, ride a bike, and work out with weights at home or at a gym. Even try something new, like a yoga class. Stretch out your body and stay flexible and youthful. Before and during exercise, drink fluids and particularly water, to reduce body temperature, moderate cardiovascular stress and improve performance. After a strenuous workout, it’s important to replace the fluids you’ve lost. As Jack LaLanne said in his Share Guide (May/June 2002) interview, “Exercise is king, nutrition is queen.” Put them together and you have a healthy kingdom.

4. Good, clean water is not a given. Most city waters, and even wells, are suspect for contamination with microbes and chemicals. I believe it is wise to invest in an appropriate filtration system since water is such an important component of our body. The best is a Reverse Osmosis unit or a Solid Carbon block type filter; what’s most effective for your home use depends on what your water concerns are and how much water you need. Many people also buy bottled water from natural springs, or water bottled after filtration. If you use a consistent brand, check it out by calling the company and asking for a report. You may also want to look into an alkaline water unit. There is interesting research on drinking water that is more alkaline or that contains added bicarbonates (and may include calcium and magnesium salts), and on this water’s balancing, healing effects.

5. Dehydration is a very common problem that nearly every one of us experiences at some time. Every cell in our body requires water to function, to bring in nourishment and carry away toxins. When these functions aren’t performed fully due to dehydration, a range of symptoms can occur. At even 1 percent dehydration, most people get thirsty, which is the body’s warning sign. Dehydration can cause dry mouth, flushed skin, fatigue, light-headedness, headache, or impaired physical performance, as well as lapses in concentration. Headache may be a sign of increased toxicity. Other problems from more chronic dehydration include constipation and poor digestive function, dry and itchy skin, a reduction in urine output, and even an increased incidence of painful kidney stones. Remember my favorite slogan; Dilution is the solution to pollution. So, drink your water!

6. Add some nutrients to your water and it may make it healthier and more palatable for you. Some folks do not like to drink plain water; they just have distaste for it. If so, try various bottled waters to see if there is one you like. Add some lemon, lime, or a tea bag to give it some flavoring. Water can also be flavored with some orange or apple juice, or some nutrient powders like Emergen-C or another vitamin/mineral combination available at your store. My family starts each day with nutrient-rich water and juice. Warm drinks include herbal and green teas, lemon water, chai, and vegetable broth. Starting the day with a cup of hot water can awaken you and your digestion. Hot water sipped through the day is a popular therapy for illness in Asia.

7. The best time to drink water is first thing in the morning and ideally two or three glasses. I also encourage people to drink between meals rather than too much while eating, as increased fluids dilute the strength of our digestive juices and lower the efficiency of digestion and assimilation. For those working to lose weight, drinking a couple glasses of H2O about 30 minutes before meals will hydrate the tissues, calm the appetite and likely lower the amount of food consumed. Water is also so important to healthy skin and good circulation, to staying young and healthy. To summarize, the ideal times to drink water are: First thing in the morning, mid-morning and mid-afternoon, and/or about 30–60 minutes before meals.

8. Water and weight loss is an important topic, so here’s a bit more. Focus mainly on vegetables and other wholesome foods and away from processed and sweetened high-calorie foods and snacks. Definitely switch from the caloric, sugary sodas and other drinks to pure water. And drink several glasses when arising and 30 minutes before planned meals. Make this a priority, and make it fun and tasty. Review Tips number six and seven above for further ideas, plus number three for your exercise motivation. Carry water with you so you have it available. Have a couple fruits daily, plus make and consume homemade vegetable soups.

9. Kids need water too. Children don’t handle heat and dehydration as well as adults, and the younger they are, the greater the concern. Diarrhea and subsequent dehydration and malnourishment may be the number one cause of death in kids throughout the world. Elders need water too. They are also sensitive to dehydration and the effects of hot weather. Heating and cooling of the body can be accomplished with warm or cool foods and beverages. This is a natural inclination, yet it may need to be developed in this world where kids (and all of us) are exposed to relentless advertising. Drinking warm/hot water and teas is a good habit for those living in the colder climates. Adding splashes of juice is helpful in getting kids to drink water instead of sugary beverages. Also, adding a nutrient powder, many of which are nicely flavored, provides a good start to a child’s day, or as replenishment after a busy or active time. For children who are overweight or who are fixated on sodas and sugary drinks, it will be a great lifetime health benefit to switch them to water and lighter drinks, such as juice and carbonated water combinations. Be a good example by drinking your water too.

10. Other General Ideas on Water.

  • Use aromatherapy and flowered sprays to mist the air and your body, and like plants, you can hydrate yourself.
  • With airplane travel it’s easy to experience dehydration, so drink your water and avoid salted foods and alcohol beverages.
  • Many medications, such as diuretics, can cause dryness, while others can cause water retention and bloating. Learn about any medicines you take, even the natural ones. Mainly, when we take meds or eat too much junk, we usually need to drink lots of water.
  • The containers from which we drink water are also important. I prefer glass or the harder and more stable poly-carbonate plastic rather than polyethylene material which emits plastic into the water more readily. Particularly avoid all plastic containers for lemon water or the Master Cleanser, because the acids in the lemon even leach more toxins.
  • Bathe your body regularly. Soak in water for the relaxation and healing it generates. Regular sweating, as in saunas, physical work, sweat lodges, hiking, or eating chili peppers may help us to live long and healthfully! Swimming is a great recreation and exercise. Find a lake, river, or the ocean and have some great swim fun.

Elson M. Haas, MD

Elson M. Haas, MD is a medical practitioner with nearly 40 years experience in patient care, always with in an interest in natural medicine. For the past 30 years, he has been instrumental in the development and practice of Integrated Medicine at the Preventive Medical Center of Marin (PMCM), which he founded in 1984 and where he is the Medical Director. Dr Haas has been perfecting a model of healthcare that integrates sophisticated Western diagnostics and Family Medicine with time-honored natural therapies from around the world.

This educating, writing doctor is also the author of many books including Staying Healthy with Nutrition: The Complete Guide to Diet and Nutritional Medicine, 21st Century Edition, The NEW Detox Diet: The Complete Guide for Lifelong Vitality with Recipes, Menus, & Detox Plans and more. His latest book is Staying Healthy with NEW Medicine which integrates Natural, Eastern, and Western Approaches for Optimal Health. Visit his website for more information on his work, books and to sign up for his newsletter.