What's in Water? Knowing How to Stay Hydrated This Summer


Summer is officially here! The warm weather means a return to many of the activities we all love, from social gatherings to outdoor exercise and adventures out on the town. But, in order to get the most out of your summer, it's critically important to keep hydrated.

Anyone in search of hydration tips is sure to find an array of information from various sources, and it can be hard to cut through the noise. Similarly, the sheer variety of different water brands currently on the market is sure to make any thirsty person's head spin. But the realities of hydration and choosing the right water may be simpler than you think. To help us take a deep dive into the waters of...well, water, we spoke with Lucas Couch, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine at Carroll Health Group.
When it comes to staying hydrated, the first question that comes to mind for many is how much water to drink. Conventional wisdom has typically held that we should strive to drink 64 ounces of water a day, but as Dr. Couch explains, "The current medical recommendation is to just drink when you're thirsty." Dr. Couch goes on to add that the actual amount of water required will vary from person to person and will depend on the amount of physical activity each person is getting. But even for those who are not very physically active, the importance of hydration, particularly in the summer months, cannot be overstated. This, according to Dr. Couch, is because we sweat. 

"We perspire, it covers our skin, and then it evaporates, and that evaporative process is a cooling mechanism for our body."

From an evolutionary standpoint, our sweat gives us an edge. "The human body is really good at cooling itself off, which is why your average human, if they're reasonably healthy, can run long distances." says Dr. Couch. This evolutionary advantage is part of what sets humanity apart from many other species, but our efficiency at cooling ourselves off comes at the cost of large quantities of water. While physical activity will certainly improve the rate at which the body expels water to cool itself, this evaporative process is still at work even when we're at rest, and thus requires adequate hydration regardless of activity level.

So now we know that it's important to drink water whenever we feel thirsty in order to fuel one of our body's most essential mechanisms of self-regulation: sweat. But how do we know what kind of water to drink?
Walk into any convenience store and you'll find a colorful assortment of waters from a variety of brands, each advertising some unique advantage over the others. Even the tap water available in our homes varies greatly in taste and other qualities depending on the region. To help us make sense of things, Dr. Couch explains the differences between what he calls "hard" and "soft" waters.
"Hard" water is that which contains more minerals, such as alkaline, whereas "soft" water contains relatively fewer minerals. The natural hardness or softness of water is determined by the sediment it flows through. When it comes to drinking, the best water is that which is not too hard and not too soft. Water that is too hard, for example, can increase the likelihood of kidney stones, and water that is too soft can result in stomach issues such as diarrhea.

Fortunately, most tap and bottled waters are well within the healthy range of hardness and softness, which means that a choice between different waters is largely a matter of taste. Dr. Couch does not recommend drinking rainwater or distilled water due to their lack of minerals, but otherwise maintains that there isn't much evidence to indicate the superiority of certain brands of bottled water over others.

Dr. Couch explains that as a species, "we've been all over the world, so we're probably used to very different types of hardness," going on to say that "there may be an exercise benefit here and there, but I haven't seen any reports."

More significant than what type of water you're drinking, is whether or not you're drinking the right amount. Both dehydration and overhydration can be dangerous, and it's important to be aware of the symptoms of each. Signs of dehydration may include darker urine or low frequency or urination, dry lips and sunken eyes. Those who are reasonably well hydrated, Dr. Couch explains, should be urinating at least every few hours. Overhydration on the other hand presents with neurological symptoms like abnormal behavior and confusion. Particularly in the summer, symptoms of heat exhaustion should also be looked out for carefully, such as a sudden sensation of cold or chills on a hot day. 

The kinds of water we should be drinking, tap or bottled, is mainly a matter of preference. Rather than getting too caught up in the differences between brands, Dr. Couch urges us to listen to our bodies, and keep a close eye out for the symptoms of dehydration. 

So, as you enjoy the summer and all the fun it entails, be sure you're holding to the cardinal rule of hydration: drink when you're thirsty.