Water is your body's principal chemical component, comprising, on average, 60 percent of your weight. Every system in your body depends on water. For example, water flushes toxins out of vital organs, carries nutrients to your cells and provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues.
Lack of water can lead to dehydration, a condition that occurs when you don't have enough water in your body to carry out normal functions. (CNN.com)
Every day you lose water through your breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements. For your body to function properly, you must replenish its water supply by consuming beverages and foods that contain water.
A couple of approaches attempt to approximate water needs for the average, healthy adult living in a temperate climate.
- Replacement approach. The average urine output for adults is 1.5 liters a day. You lose close to an additional liter of water a day through breathing, sweating and bowel movements. Food usually accounts for 20 percent of your total fluid intake, so if you consume 2 liters of water or other beverages a day (a little more than 8 cups) along with your normal diet, you will typically replace the lost fluids.
- Dietary recommendations. The Institute of Medicine advises that men consume roughly 3.0 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day and women consume 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day.
Even apart from the above approaches, it is generally the case that if you drink enough fluid so that you rarely feel thirsty and produce between one and two liters of colorless or slightly yellow urine a day, your fluid intake is probably adequate.
Factors that influence water needs
You may need to modify your total fluid intake depending on how active you are, the climate you live in, your health status, and if you're pregnant or breast-feeding.
Exercise. The more you exercise, the more fluid you'll need to keep your body hydrated. An extra 1 or 2 cups of water should suffice for short bouts of exercise, but intense exercise lasting more than an hour (for example, running a marathon) requires additional fluid. How much additional fluid is needed depends on how much you sweat during the exercise, but 13 to26 ounces (or about 2 to 3 cups) an hour will generally be adequate, unless the weather is exceptionally warm.
During long bouts of intense exercise, it's best to use a sports drink that contains sodium, as this will help replace sodium lost in sweat and reduce the chances of developing hyponatremia, which can be life-threatening. Fluid also should be replaced after exercise. Drinking 16 ounces of fluid per pound of body weight lost during exercise is recommended.
- Environment. Hot or humid weather can make you sweat and requires additional intake of fluid. Heated indoor air also can cause your skin to lose moisture during wintertime. Further, altitudes greater than 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) may trigger increased urination and more rapid breathing, which use up more of your fluid reserves.
- Illnesses or health conditions. Signs of illnesses, such as fever, vomiting and diarrhea, cause your body to lose additional fluids. In these cases you should drink more water and may even need oral rehydration solutions, such as Gatorade, Powerade or Ceralyte. Certain conditions, including bladder infections or urinary tract stones, also require increased water intake. On the other hand, certain conditions such as heart failure and some types of kidney, liver and adrenal diseases may impair excretion of water and even require that you limit your fluid intake.
- Pregnancy or breast-feeding. Women who are expecting or breast-feeding need additional fluids to stay hydrated. Large amounts of fluid are lost especially when nursing. The Institute of Medicine recommends that pregnant women drink 2.4 liters (about 10 cups) of fluids daily and women who breast-feed consume 3.0 liters (about 12.5 cups) of fluids a day.
While water is very important for your health, there are some times when drinking too much water can be a problem:
- If you have any kidney or adrenal problems, or your doctor has you taking diuretics, you need to consult with your doctor about how much water to drink each day
- Don't drink all of the water you need per day all at once. Divide the amount you need and drink several glasses of water throughout the day. This is especially important if you engage in lots of heavy exercise.
- Infants should be given just formula or breast milk unless your pediatrician tells you otherwise.
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