The month of August brings the “dog days of summer.” For many, this means oppressive heat, trouble sleeping, and fatigue with the hot, sticky summer days. For adults and kids alike, appropriate precautions must be taken for dealing with hot weather. We now have an increasing understanding of what heat stress does to the human body, and we need to take precautions.

With about 75 percent of the body made up of water found inside cells, within blood vessels, and between cells, survival requires a rather sophisticated water management system. Luckily, our bodies have such a system, and our thirst mechanism tells us when we need to increase fluid intake.

Although water is lost constantly throughout the day as we breathe, sweat, urinate, and defecate, we can replenish the water in our body by drinking fluids. The body can also shift water around to areas where it is more needed if dehydration begins to occur.

Adequate hydration is vital for surviving in blistering temperatures. The general rule of thumb for basic adequate hydration is to drink one half of your body weight in ounces of water. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, then you need at least 75 ounces of water or fluids on a daily basis. Coffee, soda, alcohol, heavily caffeinated beverages, or thick beverages like a protein smoothie, etc. are generally not counted for basic hydration. Caffeine containing beverages can act as a diuretic – avoid them for hydration purposes. If you are thirsty, this means that you are past the initial stage of dehydration and need to be more aggressive in consuming water.

The water you drink literally becomes you! Since such a large percentage of our bodies are water, water must obviously figure heavily in how our bodies function. Aside from aiding in digestion and absorption of food, water regulates body temperature and blood circulation, carries nutrients and oxygen to cells, and removes toxins and other wastes. This “body water” also cushions joints and protects tissues and organs, including the spinal cord, from shock and damage. Chronic dehydration may cause certain problems for the body, including hypertension, asthma, allergies, and migraine headaches. Every process in our body occurs in a water medium.

The first symptoms of dehydration include thirst, darker urine, and decreased urine production. In fact, urine color is one of the best indicators of a person’s hydration level — clear urine means you are well hydrated and darker urine means you are dehydrated.

According to Mayo Clinic, extreme cases of dehydration often show signs of extreme thirst, irritability and confusion, very dry skin, very little urination (and if any it will be much darker than normal), low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat and breathing, fever and in extremely serious cases delirium or unconsciousness.

Our elderly loved ones need a little extra TLC during the hot summer months. Senior dehydration is a common health issue that can lead to bigger problems if proper hydration is not made a priority, such as urinary tract infections and low blood pressure. Proper hydration helps to keep the body and vitals regulated. The University of Chicago Medical Center found that 40% of heat-related fatalities in the U.S. were among people over 65.

Water is important for your digestion. It keeps the food you eat moving along through your intestines and it keeps your intestines smooth and flexible, too.

Dehydration is one of the most common causes of chronic constipation. The food you eat makes its way from your stomach to the large intestine, or colon. If you don’t have enough water in your body already — if you’re dehydrated — the large intestine soaks up water from your food waste. This makes hard stools that are difficult to pass.

A non-active person needs a half ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. That is 10, 8-ounce glasses a day if your weight is 160 pounds. For every 25 pounds you exceed your ideal weight, increase it by one 8-ounce glass. The more you exercise the more water you need. Spread out your water intake throughout the day. Do not drink more than four glasses within any given hour. After a few weeks your bladder calms down and you will urinate less frequently, but in larger amounts.

In conclusion, staying hydrated is not just to avoid feeling thirsty, but also to keep you alert and alive. If you don’t like water try infusing it with fruit, fruit juice, mint, cucumbers, or herbal teas. Try to avoid commercial flavor enhancers as they often have either sugar or artificial sweeteners. Prevention is by far the best medicine here. Drink water throughout the day, increasing your intake before, during and after exercise (or any sweaty activity). Plus be sure and get electrolytes in if you sweat significantly. Finally keep a water bottle with you no matter where you are; it will help you drink more without even realizing it.

Glenn Ellis, is a health advocacy communications specialist. He is the author of “Which Doctor?” and “Information is the Best Medicine.” A health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health-related topics, Ellis is an active media contributor on health equity and medical ethics. Listen to Glenn, every Saturday at 9:00 a.m. (EST) on www.900amwurd.com, and Sundays at 8:30 a.m. (EST) on www.wdasfm.com. For more health information, visit: www.glennellis.com.

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