You started having it a few months after you were born, and you’ve never stopped. Each time you feel thirsty, exercise vigorously, or walk indoors from the hot sun, water is your best friend. You could go through the rest of your life without having any other type of liquid, and would probably be completely fine. And if you don’t have enough water for a sustained period of time, it would make you ill in more ways than you realise. All in all, reaching out for that glass of water is probably one of the cheapest and easiest investments you can make in your health.

Today, hydration has become a science. Some have elevated it to a mantra, or a “panacea for all ills”. Water is great for you, but there many myths about hydration prevail as well. To cut through the clutter, we answer some of your biggest questions about hydration.

How much water should you drink?

According to a 2004 report by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the daily recommended fluid intake for men is 15.5 cups (3.7 litres) and about 11.5 cups (2.7 litres) for women. This amount also includes water from the foods consumed.

While this might serve as a broad indicator, experts say your needs might vary, depending on factors like gender, diet, climate, activity levels and so on. To keep it simple, experts recommend you drink enough water so you don’t feel thirsty and your urine stays light in colour.

Besides quenching thirst, what functions does water play?

Water performs many roles, including that of transporting nutrients to your body’s cells (around 90% of blood is water). It also carries out waste materials through the skin, and thus detoxifies you. Sweating is your body’s way of regulating its temperature. Water also hydrates your muscles, lubricates your joints, protects brain and spine tissue and helps your body perform better, especially when in hot weather or during heightened periods of activity (e.g. sports or exercise).

One of the most important organs of your body—the brain—also needs water. A 2019 study conducted with male Chinese students showed that dehydration negatively affected vigour, short-term memory and attention. And a 2013 study from the UK indicated that participants exhibited 14% faster reaction times after consuming water, as compared to others who didn’t drink any water.

Drinking enough water also deters you from reaching out for other drinks, like colas or other sweetened drinks, which are not good for your health and weight.  

How much water does the body lose during exercise?

Athlete guidelines prepared by ILSI, National Institute of Nutrition and the Sports Authority of India, say that intense activity can potentially dehydrate the person as early as 15 minutes. Continued heavy activity might result in 1-2 litres of water being lost every hour, it adds.

Some of the signs of dehydration are fatigue, dizziness and nausea, heat cramps, headache, dry skin, lips or eyes. Remember to consume enough water or other liquids to avoid such a scenario.  

Is water the only way to stay hydrated?

Your body gets water from the food you eat as well. Some water-rich vegetables and fruits you can easily find in India are cabbage, watermelon, spinach, yogurt, apples, grapes, carrots, pears.

When it comes to liquids, milk and unsweetened fresh juices are good options if you’re bored of plain water. To know more, read our article on alternatives to water for staying hydrated.

Are there any side-effects to drinking too much water?

Once in a while, no. You’re just likely to pee out the excess water. But obsessively drinking more water than your body can handle, can cause a fall in sodium or electrolyte levels, put pressure on the kidneys, and cause you to feel bloated. Other signs of over-hydration include headaches, nausea and muscle cramps. You CAN have too much of a good thing, apparently.

(Infographic by Rohit Kumar/ Times Bridge)