Are You Drinking Enough Water?

Water is essential for staying healthy but when it comes to exactly how much water you should be drinking every day, opinions are varied.

Why our bodies need water to survive

It’s estimated that 60% of our body weight is water. All of the bodies’ major organs and processes rely on water to help them function. Water plays an important role in transporting nutrients around the body and flushing out toxins.

What happens when you don’t drink enough water?

Water is lost by our bodies in different ways, through breathing, sweating and when we go to the toilet. This fluid needs to be constantly replaced or dehydration can occur as a result of not having enough water in our body for it to function properly. The symptoms of dehydration include a dry mouth, dizziness, headaches and tiredness. In severe cases dehydration can even cause death.

How much water should you drink?

Although there is varying advice given on this topic, the European Food Safety Authority recommends that on average men should drink 2 litres a day (10 glasses of 200ml) and women should drink slightly less, around 1.6 litres a day (8 glasses of 200ml). This does vary however depending on various factors, a doctor or dietician can best advise on the amount you should be drinking per day.

What counts towards our daily recommended fluid intake?

Most of your daily fluid intake should come from drinks, but fruits such as tomatoes have high water content so these also count towards your daily total. Although all beverages count, the healthiest options are water, milk and juice. Water is highly recommended though as it is calorie free and readily available either bottled, from the tap or from drinking fountains and water coolers.

Special factors that can influence how much water we need to drink

How much fluid you need to drink will depend on several factors, how active you are, the climate you live in and whether you have any health problems.

Fluids should be replaced when exercising

When we exercise our bodies lose fluid through sweating. We need to compensate for any fluid loss by drinking more. It’s recommended to drink before, during and after exercise.

For short periods of exercise, you should drink around 400-600ml, but for sessions lasting longer than an hour you will require more fluids. The longer you exercise and the more you sweat, the more water you will require.

As well as replacing fluids, your body needs to replace the sodium which is lost in sweat. Sports drinks are recommended to help replenish your sodium, although it’s important to pay attention to the labelling as some of these have high sugar content.

Effect of climate and environment on fluid intake

In warm environments more fluids are lost through sweating, so it’s important to increase your fluid intake particularly during summer months. Also during winter indoor heating causes us to lose moisture from our skin so it’s important to drink more and keep your fluid supply topped up.

We also lose more water at high altitude, due to the increase in breathing. This is something to consider if you live in or are planning to visit an area that has a high altitude.

Health problems effecting fluid intake

If you have fever, are vomiting or have diarrhoea your body will lose fluids quickly, so these will need to be constantly replaced to avoid dehydration. Also in some cases medical conditions may require you to drink more or less water. A doctor is best to advice on the amount that you should be drinking if you have any underlying issues with your health.

What happens if you drink too much water?

Although water intoxication is quite rare, it is possible to drink too much water. If you drink too much water in a short space of time, your kidneys will not be able to process it. The electrolyte and sodium levels in the blood will be diluted and fall which can cause a condition called hyponatremia.

Symptoms of hyponatremia include confusion, headache, muscle spasms and seizures. This is a serious condition that can result in coma or death, so must receive urgent medical attention to raise the bodies’ sodium levels.

Hyponatremia isn’t a common problem and is most likely to be encountered by marathon runners and endurance athletes. The amount of water that would result in this condition is unknown, although it does vary depending on the individual. It’s advisable therefore to space out your fluid intake and not drink too much at once.

Making sure you get enough water

As your fluid intake should be spaced out throughout the day, it’s advisable to drink with each meal and between each meal to ensure a constant fluid supply.