We’re regularly reminded of how important hydration is for everyone, young or old. But did you know that our hydration requirements change as we age? Water is one of the most critical elements, with up to 60% of the human body made of water. Keeping hydrated is essential for the normal function of our bodies. So, why do we need to monitor our hydration more closely the older we get?
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From the effects dehydration has on the body and mind, to the benefits a well-hydrated system can offer, there’s a lot of reasons we need to manage our water intake. A recent study published in The Journal of Physiology found hydration plays an essential role in managing body temperature and fighting off a range of health issues. With water used by every cell in our body, we must take care to fend off dehydration, especially as we approach the warmer months in summer.
It’s not always well known that we need to increase our water intake as we grow older, which means this gap in knowledge can be causing many to underestimate how much water they should be consuming every day. Discover why hydration is so important and how to improve your water intake.
Why is hydration important?
Good hydration is a crucial part of a healthy diet. Healthy hydration levels affect almost every bodily function, including supporting our blood system by carrying essential glucose, oxygen and nutrients to cells, helping our kidneys to filter waste products we no longer want from our systems, lubricating our joints and eyes, helping the normal function of our digestive system and keeping our skin healthy. Good hydration levels have also been linked to improved cognitive function, better quality sleep and overall improvements in mood.
Signs of dehydration
There are a broad range of symptoms that we can experience if dehydrated, and they often depend on the level of dehydration being experienced too. Signs of dehydration often include:
- Dry mouth, lips or eyes
- Feeling thirsty
- Dizziness or lightheaded
- Infrequent urination and/or darker coloured urine
If you notice these signs, you should prioritise increasing your fluids to prevent the problem becoming worse. If symptoms persist, this could lead to complications associated with dehydration, such as:
- Low blood pressure
- Sunken eyes
- Reduced skin elasticity
- Drowsiness, confusion and/or disorientation
Long term dehydration can result in:
- Reduced kidney function and infection
- Muscle damage
- Dry or flaky skin
Causes of dehydration
There are a number of reasons someone can become dehydrated, from not consuming enough fluids to illness. Commonly associated causes of dehydration include:
- Vomiting or diarrhoea
- Excess sweating
- Consumption of certain drinks such as alcoholic beverages
- Certain medications that are known as diuretics
Why is hydration more important as we age?
Dehydration is a common problem among elderly people in the UK, made more pronounced during the hotter months of the year. There are a number of reasons this occurs more often in older people than in younger. The water levels in our body decrease as we age, meaning that between the age of 20 and 80 years, there is approximately a 15% reduction in our water volume.
This is a natural effect of the ageing process, which is why as we age, we must take care to pay attention to our fluid intake. This reduced water volume as we age means we become more susceptible to dehydration the older we get. Our threshold for hydration is decreased, meaning the onset of dehydration can happen more rapidly than when younger.
Sweat is a common function of the body that helps us to regulate body temperature. However, when we are older, this becomes more difficult to manage. With naturally lower water volumes, the body doesn’t manage heat regulation as easily, which can result in increased strain on the heart, especially during exercise.
Temperature regulation isn’t only associated with exercise, though. It affects us whenever we need to adapt to our environment, whether hotter or cooler. Hydration helps mitigate issues related to body temperature, such as risk of heat exhaustion, heat stroke and adverse heart problems.
Some important benefits of maintaining hydration extend beyond the regulation of body temperature too:
Improved physical and mental health
Our minds have been found to be healthier when our hydration levels are higher. This encourages improved cognitive function and allows our brains to function at their full capability. Exercise is also easier for people when they are hydrated, improving endurance levels, heart rate and speeding up the recovery process.
It’s no surprise healthy hydration keeps illness at bay. From reducing short term risks associated with dehydration, such as urinary tract and kidney infections, to long term conditions such as diabetes, hydration plays a key role. Not only does healthy hydration reduce the impact of illness, but it also helps with the recovery process if we do fall ill.
Hydration has been linked to your mood, with even mild dehydration having an impact on how we feel. From feeling more tense or ‘off’ to playing a role in feeling down, not getting enough H20 can have more of an impact than we realise. With water playing a vital role in our emotions, ensuring we’re reaching optimum hydration levels can keep us feeling better.
How much water do I need to stay hydrated?
Most adults should aim for around two litres of water per day to maintain good hydration levels. For most people, this equates to around 8-10 classes per day. While this is a good base indication, it’s important to note that water intake will differ from person to person and is highly dependent on activity and climate. This is why in the summer we often need more fluids than during winter.
A lot of people wonder if only water intake contributes to their hydration. While water is the best source of fluids to maintain your hydration level, tea and coffee contribute to your fluid intake, as do foods with high levels of water such as cucumber, watermelon and berries. It is important to ensure you are not relying on food and tea or coffee to provide all of your fluid intake.
How to improve your hydration levels
Maintaining hydration can become more difficult as we age. Older people tend to have reduced thirst levels, which means they don’t notice they are dehydrated until later than a young person would. It can also be difficult with people who are experiencing dementia as they may forget to drink.
To improve hydration levels, consider these tips to help you stay on top of your fluid intake.
- Drink small amounts often. By drinking smaller amounts of water more frequently you can maintain improved consistency in hydration levels.
- Swap regular tea and coffee for decaffeinated versions. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it encourages the body to eliminate fluids. By switching your tea and coffee to low caffeinated versions, you will reduce the diuretic effect.
- If you have trouble drinking two litres of plain water daily, consider adding fresh fruit including citrus or berries to your water to gently and naturally flavour it.
- Keep a bottle or jug of water close to you. If you keep water within your sight, you are more likely to drink it more often and reach your daily target.
- Keep tabs on how much you drink. This can be noting down how many glasses you are having or using a water bottle that has measures on it to show you how much you’re consuming.
- Add high fluid foods to your diet. Soups, smoothies and lots of fruits and vegetables contain higher amounts of water. While these shouldn’t be relied upon to increase fluid levels, they can contribute up to as much as 20% of your daily water intake.
- Setting yourself reminders can be a useful way of ensuring you keep up your fluids consistently throughout the day.
- Drink a glass of water with every meal, this makes it easy to remember to drink and can also help you avoid overeating at mealtimes.
Can you drink too much water?
The simple answer is yes, you can drink too much water. Overhydration is a problem when someone consumes too much water, which reduces the electrolytes in your body. A fall in your electrolyte levels can cause headaches, nausea and muscle weakness. Signs you have consumed too much water can include swollen lips, hands and feet – though this differs to fluid retention caused by other conditions. If you are concerned about overhydration or dehydration, you should speak with your doctor to ensure you are maintaining optimum hydration levels to keep you healthy.
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