Summer has hit the Florida Panhandle with a vengeance this year! If you’re out in the heat it’s especially important to make sure to keep your body well-hydrated. After all, water is the single largest component of our body, and it’s essential for life.

Recommendations for how much to drink vary depending on several factors including your age, how active you are, how hot it is outside, what you’re wearing, and if you have certain medical conditions. A pretty good “ballpark” from the Institute of Medicine Food & Nutrition Board (IOMB) is to drink around 3 quarts of water a day for women and around 4 quarts for men. It’s important to start hydrating even before your feet hit the floor in the morning, because your body has been losing fluid while you slept. And if you can go more than 4 hours during the day without taking a bathroom break, you’re probably already dehydrated.

Boy drinking water from clear glass

Water: Drink Up!
Photo Source: Ginny Hinton

Why worry about dehydration? In addition to making you more at risk of overheating, dehydration can affect a host of different organs and functions in your body. For example:

  • Dehydration makes it harder for kidneys to flush toxins (poison) from your system, creating an infection-friendly environment.
  • When you’re dehydrated, your blood becomes thicker and your heart has to pump harder to move it through your veins. This can lead to higher blood pressure.
  • Dehydrated skin loses its elasticity and looks dry and flaky. Your sweat becomes more concentrated, making it harder for you to sweat as much as you need.
  • Dehydrated joints are more brittle and more likely to become inflamed or damaged.
  • When your body is low on water, it pulls too much liquid from the stool to use for other functions. That can cause constipation, in addition to inflammation throughout your body.
  • Moist mucus membranes in the nose protect you from airborne allergens. Dehydration can dry them out and make you more vulnerable to irritating allergies.
  • Dehydration makes you have less energy, and it also affects your mood and concentration. There’s a documented link between stress and dehydration.

The good news is that it’s easier to stay hydrated than you think. Water is a great way to hydrate, but it’s far from the only option. Watch the sugar and caffeine content when choosing other beverages, but milk, fruit juice, coffee and tea can all help you stay hydrated. The current guidelines to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks of caffeine intake are to drink no more than 1/3 to 4 cups of coffee per day (depending on the caffeine content) and 1 to 8 cups a day for tea. You can cut the sugar content but still have a tasty beverage by mixing half sweet tea with half unsweet, by mixing fruit juice with water, and by drinking flavored carbonated water with a splash of fruit juice to substitute for soda. Even food can help you stay hydrated! Watermelon, for example, is 90% water. Citrus fruits have a high water content as well, and vegetables like tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce pack a powerful hydration punch.

As you get out and enjoy Florida’s sunny summer weather, just be sure to keep hydration in mind. Your body will thank you for it!