by Joy Bradford, RD, LDN
When we consider what it means to take care of our health as we get older, we typically think about eating healthy foods, exercising and taking the medications our doctors prescribe for us. We often overlook adequate hydration, but this is a very key part of healthy aging. Water makes up two thirds of our body weight and is considered an essential nutrient. Water is responsible for:
- Helping the kidneys flush out waste
- Regulating body temperature
- Preventing constipation
- Stabilizing blood pressure
- Cushioning organs
- Lubricating joints
- Transporting oxygen and nutrients throughout the body
- Keeping tissues and skin moist and healthy.
In order to optimize these functions the average amount of fluid we need to consume each day is about 64 ounces or 8 cups. More is necessary when it is very hot or for exercise. A good rule of thumb is to have 16 ounces of water for every 30 minutes of exercise.
This is a lot of fluid! And to complicate matters, as we get older we do not feel as thirsty, and sometimes our brain confuses thirst with hunger. Our brain can tell us we are hungry when what we really need is hydration, and this can lead to overeating and unnecessary weight gain. Imagine if all you had to do to eliminate food cravings was to stay adequately hydrated. This is actually true for many of my older patients. Therefore, drinking before we are thirsty helps not only maintain good hydration but can also help with weight management.
So what fluid is best for hydrating us? The short answer is water. Water is the most easily absorbed and utilized in the body without providing things we don’t want like extra sodium, sugar, calories and caffeine. Sports drinks and juice can be beneficial in preventing fatigue for vigorous exercise lasting longer than an hour. However, when we engage in moderate or vigorous exercise that lasts less than 60 minutes, water is all that is necessary and is the best option.
There are various flavored waters and flavored seltzer waters on the market now in case you want to keep your taste buds from getting bored with all of this water. Choose one that does not have any added sugar or artificial sweeteners. Another option is to create your own water infusions at home. You can do this by adding fruits, vegetables and/or herbs to your water and let the flavors infuse into the water prior to drinking. Citrus fruits, frozen berries, cucumbers, mint leaves, cinnamon sticks, and ginger root are all good flavors to experiment with in water infusions. There are limitless combinations of flavors to play with as you set out to improve your health with better hydration.
Joy Bradford, RD, LDN, is a Health Coach at Pinehurst Medical Clinic in Pinehurst. She can be reached at 910.235.3347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.