Dehydration: It’s Not Just a Hot-Weather Issue

Many of us associate dehydration with over-exerting ourselves on hot, humid, sunny days, when sweat soaks our T-shirts and no number of cool beverages can quench our thirst. But, it’s just as easy to get dehydrated in the winter months, and in some ways, it’s even more likely. But no matter the time of year, staying hydrated is critical. Water is involved in every cellular process in our bodies, so keeping our fluid intake at an optimal level is essential to maintaining our overall health.

Defeating Dehydration: Know the Signs

Symptoms of dehydration can include dizziness, fatigue, headache, unclear thinking, muscle cramps, dry skin, dry mouth or chapped lips, dark-colored urine, and of course, thirst. However, studies have shown that thirst alone is not the best indicator of proper hydration levels. In fact, most nutritionists agree that if you wait until you are thirsty to drink, it is often too late. And in winter, for a variety of reasons, it’s even more important to pay attention to just how much water you drink each day.

Take Hydration to Heart

Water makes up anywhere from 55 to 75% our body weight, depending on our age. Maintaining that level of water is essential for a healthy metabolism. If the amount of water in your body drops below optimal, your blood volume decreases and the heart has to work harder and beat faster to keep blood circulating. By staying hydrated – essentially, drinking more water than you lose – you help your heart to more easily do its job.

Cold Weather Decreases Our Natural Thirst Response

Our bodies let us know when we are thirsty and need a drink, and that thirst response is very effective in hot weather. But, when the temperature drops, that thirst response can be diminished by up to 40%. And if you don’t feel thirsty, it’s unlikely you’ll drink enough. When your body gets cold, it attempts to conserve heat by diverting more blood to the core to maintain a proper body temperature. This fools the body into thinking it’s properly hydrated.

The Weight of Winter Clothing Adds Up

In the summer, your shorts and tank top weigh next to nothing. But think about how much heavier your jeans and sweater are, combined with the added bulk of winter boots and heavy jackets. Those extra pounds make your body work 10% to 40% harder than it normally does, which makes you sweat at a higher than normal rate. But, unlike the summer months when you can see the sweat glistening on your skin, you likely won’t notice; sweat evaporates much more quickly in cold, dry air.

If You Can “See Your Breath,” You’re Losing Water

When you exhale on a cold day, the water vapor in your breath from the moisture in your mouth and lungs condenses into tiny drops of liquid water and ice that hang in the air. Each time you “see your breath,” you’re actually watching fluids leave your body. The colder and drier the air, the more water you lose this way, and the more water you need to replenish.

You Need a Lot More Water Than You Think

You’ve probably heard the directive that we should all drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day. However, in reality, 64 ounces is far short of what most nutritionists recommend, which is at least half of your bodyweight in ounces of water per day. Under that guideline, 64 ounces is enough for a 128-pound person. However, according to the CDC, the average American man is 197.8 pounds and the average woman is 170.5 pounds, which would put daily water requirements at 100 and 85 ounces, respectively. And if you exercise, you need more!

Try setting a goal of drinking a certain amount of water each day, and hit your goal. If it’s hard for you to drink cold water on cold days, try hot water with lemon or hot herbal tea. And don’t forget to eat your fruits and vegetables! Of course, they’re good for you, but their high-water content can also help to keep you hydrated.