As summer approaches and the Texas heat begins to set in, water intake becomes a more crucial component to our health.

Water is the most important (and often forgotten) nutrient and plays a vital role in our body’s function. A person can last a short time period without food; however, one can only last days without water.

Water is the medium for biochemical reactions, maintains optimal blood circulation, supplies nutrients to the cells and removes harmful waste from the body.

Water regulates body temperature by carrying heat away from the organs through the bloodstream and out of the body via sweat. As sweat evaporates, the body can safely cool off and keep an appropriate body temperature.

The body’s muscle mass contains approximately 70 to 75 percent water; conversely, body fat only contains about 10 to 40 percent water. This means athletes and people who are considered physically fit (have a high muscle mass and low body fat) have a higher percentage of water in their bodies than people who have low muscle mass and a higher percentage of fat.

This population includes overweight people and the elderly. This fact becomes important when determining hydration status and water intake goals.

Initial signs and symptoms of dehydration may often be misinterpreted as illness or even hunger; once a person “feels” thirsty, it is estimated roughly 1 percent of body water is lost and dehydration has set in.

Headache, irritability and slight fatigue are all symptoms of mild dehydration. When a person loses 2 percent body water, intense fatigue and cardiovascular impairments can result.

The question is “how much water should I drink?” Individual water needs depend on the ability to effectively sweat, temperature/humidity level, clothing and body type-to name a few factors.

The traditional recommendation of 8 ounces eight times a day is a great place to start.

To prevent dehydration during exercise or intense outdoor work, weigh yourself before and after the activity; drink three cups of water for every pound lost.

Most importantly, however, a proactive assessment of hydration status is vital, especially during the upcoming summer. Here are a few tips to monitor hydration status:

Drink enough water to where you do not feel thirsty; sip on water throughout the day

Check your urine-it should be pale yellow or clear

Drink water during exercise versus juice, energy drinks or sports drinks

Hydrate the day before exercise, during and after

Avoid alcohol the day before an intense exercise session (extremely dehydrating)

Consume at least five cups of fruits and vegetables a day

Carey Stites is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and a Registered Dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition. Carey is currently the Registered Dietitian working with Wellstone in Harker Heights. Contact her at carey.stites@smchh.org.

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