Drinking enough water is one of the most basic healthy tips we receive, yet we often ignore the fact our body needs water to function. According to one study published in the journal Nutrition Reviews (opens in new tab), dehydration has been linked with urological health problems, gut disease, circulatory problems and even neurological disorders.
Water helps our digestion, helps carry nutrients around our body, protects our internal organs and keeps our heart beating. However, we often ignore our body's needs: a report from Harvard University (opens in new tab) finds older people don't sense thirst as much as younger people, and so don't drink enough water.
Historic advice has been to drink eight 8-oz glasses of water, or two litres, every day (and to help with this, you can grab our best water bottles for the gym and our best water bottles for hiking The amount our bodies need differs slightly from person to person, but this is a reasonable, healthy goal to aim for and will cover most eventualities. Below, we've listed five warning signs to look out for to clue you in that you need to be taking on more water.
1. Unexplained headaches
Ever got a sudden headache, out of the blue? If you're not suffering from a flu or cold, it could be dehydration is the problem. Migraines and tension-type headaches can occur, which feels like a tightening or pressure-type sensation. It's a clear sign you need to be drinking more water.
If you've ever been hungover, you know exactly what this headache feels like: alcohol acts as a diuretic, making us more dehydrated, the effects of which you feel the next day. If you've ever drank too much and regretted it, you'll have experienced more of the symptoms below. It's why the advice on dealing with hangovers is always to drink lots of water.
2. Urine color (and frequency)
Our urine color is often a good indicator of whether we're properly hydrated. When you go to the bathroom, you might find your pee is a darker yellow than usual, which could be an indicator that you're not taking on enough water. Generally speaking, a paler yellow indicates proper hydration.
If you find you're not peeing very often – for example, if you don't need to answer nature's call when you get up in the morning – it's another indicator that you need to be drinking more water. Dehydration can lead to issues in the bladder and urinary tract, so you should be drinking more to keep everything flowing the way it's supposed to.
3. You can't think clearly
Ever start to lose concentration, getting unfocused and irritable? You might need to take a break – and with it, a glass of water. One study published in the British Journal of Nutrition (opens in new tab) found men who lose 1.5% of their bodyweight in water suffered from decreased cognitive performance, doing less well on memory tasks.
The men's mood decreased as well, reporting increased feelings of tension and anxiety. Drinking water encourages you to relax and be calm, which then allows you to think clearly, improving your response time, working memory and slowing down the frequency of anxious thoughts.
4. You'll feel more fatigued than usual
In the same study as above, the participants also felt fatigued when dehydrated, which makes us feel tired and means our physical performance won't be at full capacity. When we're tired, our usual go-to is a cup of coffee or tea, as the caffeine should perk us up. That's true, but if the source of our fatigue is dehydration, caffeine alone – which does have a moderate diuretic effect – is only kicking the can further down the road.
The best way to perk up dehydration-related fatigue is to drink a glass of water, then have a caffeinated beverage. That way, if your cup of joe does make you want to run to the toilet, you've got plenty of water on board.
5. Loss of skin elasticity
Do you look tired? If you look in the mirror after a long night of work, or even of drinking alcohol, and see dark circles under your eyes, you might have lost a little skin elasticity. Drinking water is vital to keeping your skin healthy, and dehydration can make it look bad.
We get dark circles under our eyes when dehydrated due to the skin's close proximity to the bones. When we see people with cucumbers on their eyes in spas, it's often said this is good for the skin – one of the reasons for this is their high water content, which the skin absorbs and lessens those dark circles. Drinking lots of water has a similar effect.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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