Written By: Karla Tafra
Proper hydration is important for optimal health and well-being, and since our bodies are mainly made of water, it should not come as a surprise. Still, we’re all severely dehydrated on a daily basis, which begs the question of what changes need to be made in our daily routines to prevent its negative side effects. Here are some of the surprising lifestyle habits that can leave you dehydrated and you might need to pay more attention to.
WHAT IS DEHYDRATION?
Before we dive into the topic of lifestyle causes for dehydration, it’s important to define this common physical state and explain its severity. Dehydration occurs when there’s an insufficient amount of water in your body, most importantly in your cells and blood vessels. It can range from mild to severe, and it can cause everything from dry mouth and dizziness to problems with digestion and even heatstroke.
Adequate water levels in your body ensure everything runs smoothly, from your digestive tract and sweat glands to your body temperature and saliva production. When these levels dry up, your entire body enters a state of panic and stress, ceasing certain functions in favor of more important ones, and increasing the risk of endangering your general health.
WHY IS DEHYDRATION DANGEROUS?
Most cases of dehydration fall in the mild to moderate range, and they show up as increased thirst, occasional headaches, post-workout muscle cramps, and some digestive issues, but over time, they can lead to more severe problems. Many of us are often so used to these symptoms, we tend to brush them off and go on with our day or continue working on a task without even stopping for a bathroom break.
Unfortunately, if left untreated, dehydration can lead to a variety of life-threatening complications, from kidney failure and heat exhaustion to seizures and even coma. And even though these severe symtpoms are rare, they’re surprisingly easy to occur, and even easier to prevent.
Everyone has different water intake needs, and that number can depend on everything from a person’s age and gender to activity level, sweat rate, diet preferences, and daily lifestyle habits. Still, it’s always better to drink more than less, even if that means you need to empty out your bladder a bit more frequently.
MOST COMMON CAUSES FOR DEHYDRATION
Any condition that disrupts the water levels in your body can cause dehydration if the fluid lost hasn’t been replenished. This includes all of your basic biological needs like sweating, urinating, defecating, and even breathing.
Other causes of fluid loss that are commonly considered to be more prominent than just basic human actions include any form of fitness and increased activity, illness (especially coupled with a fever or vomiting), gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea, and sodium-rich foods which tend to increase your body’s need for water.
LIFESTLYE FACTORS THAT CAN GREATLY CONTRIBUTE TO DEHYDRATION
In addition to the most common causes of dehydration, there are some lifestyle habits that can greatly contribute to this state, whether you’re aware of them or not. Here are some of the most common ones and if you find any (or all of them) to be familiar, you’re most likely at great risk of being dehydrated on a daily basis.
NOT DRINKING BECAUSE IT'S NOT HOT OUTSIDE
Warmer weather causes you to sweat more which in turn has you reach for your water bottle a bit more than usual. However, many people tend to under-hydrate during the colder months of the year as they sweat less and thus don’t feel the urge to drink plenty of fluids. This can easily lead to dehydration, especially if you’re spending a lot of time outdoors and breathing in the cold air.
NOT DRINKING FIRST THING WHEN YOU WAKE UP
Whether you believe in lemon water first thing in the morning or not, there’s no doubt that drinking a glass of water helps jumpstart your metabolism. It also sets a good tone for adequate hydration as you lose fluids during sleep and this is your first chance to replenish them. If you have the tendency to go straight for the coffee machine when you wake up, take a detour and fill your water bottle first.
NOT DRINKING BEFORE/DURING/AFTER YOUR WORKOUT
Getting into your workout dehydrated is not a good way to start, but not doing anything about it throughout it is even worse. Dehydration can have a serious effect on your athletic abilities, energy levels, and even your attitude towards exercise. Couple that with perspiration and you’ve overworked your body even if the workout itself wasn’t that challenging. Make sure you’re always properly hydrated before you even start exercising and make a mental note to sip throughout. And don’t forget to replenish lost fluids afterward.
NOT TAKING YOUR WATER BOTTLE WITH YOU
It’s hard to stay on top of your hydration game if you always have to rely on store-bought water or keep forgetting to take yours with you. Find your favorite water bottle and make it a habit to take it with you wherever you go. From your office to the car to the gym, and even on you walking meetings - keep it close by so you never forget to sip throughout the day. Such a simple thing and yet it can make a huge difference.
UNDEREATING AND OVEREXERCISING
When you’re body is stressed, it increases its need for fluids. Being in a constant caloric deficit, sweating it out in the gym too often, or doing both at the same time can be a true recipe for disaster. Not only does this increase the risk of severe dehydration, but it also leaves you depleted of important electrolytes. Electrolyte deficiency can lead to a variety of conditions, from seizures and vomiting to kidney failure and arrhythmia. Pay attention to your fluid intake even if you’re on a weight loss journey, especially if your activity level has gone up.
STRESS AND BEING SWAMPED WITH WORK
How many times have you been so caught up in work you forgot to lift your head from the computer screen, let alone grab your water bottle and take a sip. Hectic work tasks, hundreds of emails, and back to back meetings can make it painfully easy to forget to take a break or even go to the bathroom. Over time, this results in many dehydrated hours during the day when your brain is struggling to comprehend everything it needs to finish its to-do list with insufficient fluid levels within its cells.
This is where keeping a 30 or 40-oz water bottle right at your office desk is the best possible idea to stay on top of your hydration goals. Just don’t forget to refill it once you drink the whole thing!
DIGESTIVE ISSUES AND BLOATING
Many people who often have digestive issues and experience bloating fail to drink sufficient amounts of water as adding more fluids into their stomachs feels too much. However, in order to tackle these digestive issues, they should be doing exactly that - drinking more water to help flush everything out. As a matter of fact, dehydration can even be the cause of bloating, as the lack of fluid paired with an electrolyte imbalance tends to halt digestion in the first place.
So, next time you feel like your jeans are a bit too snug, and there’s the familiar “I-look-five-months-pregnant” feel, drink up and feel your symptoms improve.
EATING SUGARY AND ULTRA-PROCESSED FOODS
We all know by now that a diet consisting of fast food and sugar-filled drinks is a health hazard, but it can also easily leave you dehydrated. These ultra-processed foods tend to cause plenty of water retention in the body by taking it from your cells, all while providing little to no water content themselves. They also tend to decrease your natural intake of fresh fruit and veggies that are a great source of water themselves. Most of them are extremely rich in water and help you increase your water intake even without your eight-cups-a-day.
Even moreso, fresh fruits and veggies add a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and other powerful plant micronutrients to your diet, improving your body’s ability to hydrate each cell and blood vessel. So, even though it’s not surprising to recommend staying away from fast foods, whenever you do reach for a Mcdonald's burger or a Chick File combo, at least opt for some water instead of a sugar-filled Coke.
Alcohol, in general, doesn’t contribute to hydration goals for the day, and it’s known for its diuretic properties, meaning it stimulates the production of urine and makes you run for the bathroom more often. If you tend to partake in brunch mimosas and after-work cocktails, you might pay more attention to your water intake and increase it to at least equal the number of drinks you have weekly. It’s all about balance.
Coffee is another substance that tends to stimulate your production of urine and make you potentially dehydrated throughout the day. With almost every one of us unable to imagine our days without a cup or two (or three, or four), it’s even more important to increase our water intake. When dreary days are upon us, getting over-caffeinated is more common than you’d think, so drink up!
If you’re suffering from a health condition or take certain medications on a regular basis, it might be worth checking out whether or not they contain compounds that can act as a diuretic. Just taking them might already contribute to dehydration without you even knowing! Talk to your doctor and make sure you’re not adding dehydration on top of another medical condition your body is already fighting.
FLYING IN A PLANE
Although this doesn’t fit into the lifestyle habit category, it’s still worth mentioning. Plane cabins are usually very low in humidity which can have a strong impact on your fluid and hydration levels. That’s why it’s essential to drink as much as possible before your trip as well as while you’re up in the air. It will improve your digestion, reduce the possibility of experiencing a headache, and even help you prevent uncomfortable post-flight water retention.
Dehydration is a serious condition, no matter how mild it can get. Even the slightest loss of water can wreak havoc on your system and cause major electrolyte and hormonal imbalances in your body, endangering your health and well-being. Focus on preventing dehydration by staying on top of your water intake, keeping a water bottle with you at all times, and changing the lifestyle habits that lead to it, one day at a time.