Water is, quite literally, essential. Without it, life is over, done, kaput. Try going without it for even a day. Really tough to do. That’s probably why the word “drought” has such impact on people.
People living in drought-stricken areas are already acutely aware of how essential water is and how hard life gets without enough. But for most people, water is plentiful and affordable. For those folks, there’s no excuse not to drink enough water.
But here’s 8 essential reasons to drink it like your life depends on it. Because in truth, it actually does depend on it!
1. Water aids in weight loss, fat loss and improvement of your physique. Even though water has no calories and therefore provides no energy, it is an essential macronutrient. Water can also help boost your metabolic rate, even when you’re not working out or active.
In several studies, drinking just half a liter (17 ounces) of water was shown to boost the metabolic rate, which is the rate at which your body burns calories, by 24-30%. This increased metabolism lasted for up to 1 ½ hours. (1, 2)
Interestingly, the metabolic effect seems to be increased by drinking cold water. This is likely because your body needs to burn extra calories to raise the water temperature to match your body temperature.
Water also makes you feel full. If you’ve ever chugged a bottle of it, you already know this. But studies have shown that people who drink water before a meal lose weight faster than those who don’t. They eat less because they already feel full. (3)
The timing of that water consumption seems to matter, too. Those who consumed their water about 30 minutes before their meals had better weight loss results than others like them. (4)
One study showed that dieters on a 12 week diet who drank half a liter of water prior to their meals lost a whopping 44% more weight during the period than those in the control group. (5)
Water may also be a useful weapon in the battle against childhood obesity. Encouraging kids to drink more water can help prevent them from becoming obese, according to several studies. (6, 7)
One school featured in a recent study worked to reduce obesity rates in a unique way. They installed more water fountains in 17 schools. Then they provided lessons in class for 2nd and 3rd graders about water consumption. After just one year, obesity risk had been reduced by 31% in the schools where the water intake was successfully increased. (8)
2. Water aids digestion, boosts nutrient absorption and helps prevent constipation. Drinking water before, during and after meals gives your body a boost breaking down the food you consume more smoothly. You get more effective digestion and your body gets more nutrients. Water helps your body more effectively break down and absorb the vitamins and minerals from your food. For example, water is critical to the absorption and distribution in the body of the 8 B vitamins and vitamin C. Since there’s a broad spectrum of bodily functions regulated and influenced by these important micronutrients, that’s just one more reason to get enough water.
Digestion-wise, water helps “flush” us out. It binds with fiber in the large intestine, increasing stool volume reducing the amount of time needed to move waste through and easing elimination. Water also eases the load on the kidneys by keeping them operating at optimal levels to remove waste, control blood pressure and maintain our fluid balance.
As it relates to constipation, insufficient water consumption may increase your risk of backing up the plumbing, especially if you are young or elderly. (9, 10) If it’s too late and you’re already constipated, carbonated water has been shown to help. (11) It’s not rotor rooter, but it may help.
3. Water helps you perform better. Adequate water during and after exercise can reduce the oxidative stress of high intensity exercise. (12) When muscle tissue receives adequate amounts of water, it repairs better and flushes out waste more effectively.
Losing a mere 2% of the water in your body can produce a noticeable impact on your physical performance. (13) Athletes lose considerably more than that during typical games or practices. Depending on the sport and conditions, water loss of up to 6 to 10% of total water weight are common. According to one study, such losses can reduce strength by 2% or more, power by as much as 6% or more and high-intensity endurance by as much as 10% or more. (14)
Distance runners and other endurance athletes, along with athletes in sports like soccer and lacrosse, where athletes tend to keep moving and get few breaks, can suffer greatly from dehydration. The negative impact of this dehydration can be measured in blood and urine even 5 days later. (15) Wrestlers are prone to dehydration as well, with the negative effect of weight reduction added to the problems caused by high levels of training activity. (16)
Dehydration impacts athletes by driving up fatigue levels, killing motivation, reducing cognitive ability making their training sessions feel like the Bataan Death March (physically AND mentally) and even impaired body temperature control. (17) It may even cause headaches, disruptions to the kidneys and even altered cardiac function!
4. Water improves energy levels, improves mood and boosts brain power. Dehydration causes problems in the digestive system, as we’ve already covered. This can lead to altered breakdown of fat as fuel, as well as impairment of the distribution of glucose to muscle and other tissue. Most acutely, dehydration can lead to the release of vasopressin, a hormone which triggers your kidneys to retain water. This reduces the fluidity of blood, thereby increasing the blood sugar saturation and leading to hyperglycemia, or elevated blood sugar. (18) This can cause fluctuations in energy levels, along with a string of other undesirable effects.
As if all that isn’t enough, dehydration actually cause plastic changes in the brain and impair it’s cognitive efficiency, at least in the short term. When you’re dehydrated, you need more brain resources and neuronal output to complete tasks like planning and visuo-spatial processing. (19) Dehydration of just 2% of body water appears to lead to impairment of attention, psychomotor and immediate memory skills, along with assessment of one’s subjective state. (20) One study even found that drinking water during exams led to better test scores!
Water has an impact on mood, too. The sound of bubbling water was rated as the most pleasant sound we can hear by the participants of one study. (21) Another study documented the therapeutic effects of the sound of flowing water. (22) Since hormones like dopamine, adrenaline and noradrenaline are water-soluble hormones, it stands to reason that dehydration would cause dysregulation of these hormones, which would alter our responses to everyday events. In fact, one study showed that fluid loss of just 1.59% negatively affected working memory and drove up feelings of anxiety and fatigue. (23) Another study showed degraded mood, headaches, lower concentration and increased perception of task difficulty as a result of just a 1.36% of body fluid dehydration level. (24)
5. Drinking enough water seems to contribute to better heart health. One study showed that men who drank 5 or more 8 ounce glasses of water a day reduced their risk of cardiovascular incident by over 50%. Women in the study drinking 5 or more 8 ounce glasses a day saw a reduced cardiovascular risk of over 40%. (25)
6. Getting enough hydration may help prevent and treat headaches and prevent hangovers. Headaches, and even migraines, can be triggered by dehydration in some people. (26, 27) Some studies have shown that water can help relieve headaches, especially among people who are dehydrated. One small study found that water couldn’t reduce the frequency of headaches, but could reduce the duration and intensity to a degree. (28)
When it comes to hangovers, it’s no surprise that drinking more water can help. Alcohol is a significant diuretic. It actually makes you lose more water than you ingest. This is obviously a short road to dehydration. (29, 30)
Anyone who’s had a hangover can tell you that dehydration is not the principle cause of hangovers (or the worst symptom, in most cases.) It can, however, cause or worsen symptoms like fatigue, headaches and dry mouth. One “old bartender’s” remedy for hangovers is to drink a glass of water between drinks and to have a glass before bed. Unlike many anecdotal treatments and preventives, this one actually works. It does seem to reduce the severity and duration of hangovers. Or so I’ve heard…
7. Water can help prevent kidney stones and urinary tract infections (UTI’s.) A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed some pretty astonishing correlations between drinking enough water and reducing the incidence of UTI’s.
The study was a randomized 12 month study of 140 premenopausal women. They were divided into two groups. The “water” group added 1.5 liters of water to their normal daily fluid intake. The control group changed nothing.
The water group saw their mean number of UTI’s drop from 3.3 the previous year to 1.7 in the study year. That was a nearly 50% reduction over the control group. Additionally, the water group saw the time between UTI’s increase to 142.8 days, versus 84.4 for the control group. (31)
This was a well-designed study with some impressive results. With regard to urinary tract infections, let’s hear it for water!
While there is limited evidence that increased water intake can prevent kidney stones from returning in people who’ve already had them, it makes sense that adequate water intake may reduce the risk of getting them in the first place.
Urinary, or kidney stones, result from the concentration of minerals in fluid passing through the kidneys. Increased water intake would dilute this concentration, making it less likely that those minerals would accumulate in the kidneys and form stones in the first place.
So water may help prevent the formation of stones in the kidneys, but without research to confirm this, it is purely anecdotal.
8. The final reason that you need to drink more water is simple and really a no-brainer. The human body is about 60% water. So no water, no body, so to speak.
So how much water should you drink each day? That’s a good question and the subject of all kinds of arguing in the “fit-mosphere.”
There is no universally perfect amount of water to drink each day. Each of us will require a different daily intake based on our weight, activity level and diet. Other factors, such as any medications we take or the humidity levels and weather in our location, also play a role in determining adequate water intake to avoid dehydration and stay healthy.
The National Academy of Sciences has stated that “women who appear to be adequately hydrated consume an average of approximately 2.7 liters (91 ounces) of total water — from all beverages and foods — each day, and men average approximately 3.7 liters (125 ounces) daily.” (32)
I’ve always advised my clients to aim for 2/3 of an ounce per pound of body weight per day. So a 150 pound woman would drink 100 ounces, while a 200 pound man would drink 134 ounces. As mentioned earlier, this would fluctuate based on conditions and activity.
The real bottom line for how much water to drink is to avoid getting thirsty, if possible. The old maxim is (mostly) true: “if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.” Thirst is a trailing symptom of dehydration, as well as a warning sign.
So when it comes to water and staying healthy, strong and mentally sharp, ignore the advice of the most interesting man on earth. Don’t stay thirsty, my friends!
Keep the faith and keep after it!
- Judelson, D.A., Maresh, C.M., Anderson, J.M. et al., Hydration and Muscular Performance, Sports Med (2007) 37: 907