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Water for the body and the brain

health-and-fitness Updated: May 22, 2010 22:57 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

The trouble with staying healthy is that it takes a lot of effort. Good food makes us fat, exercise makes us sweat, alcohol pickles the liver, sleep-deprivation makes us sluggish… And now, experts from King’s College in London tell us that failing to drink enough water — which I do as regularly as I miss the gym — shrinks the brain and makes us dull-witted.

Happily, the effect is temporary and drinking water restores brain function fairly quickly. On an average, water accounts for 60 per cent of your body’s weight. Apart from keeping the brain sharp, it moistens tissues, cushions the joints, regulates body temperature and helps the body absorb nutrients and flush out toxins.

While most of us know we should have lots of water, exactly how much is still subject to debate. Most doctors will tell you that if you don't have a kidney problem, it’s best to drink as much water as you can, more so when the weather is hot or you have been active outdoors.

Overall fluid intake

Like most people, I grew up being told to drink at least eight glasses of water. But do we really need those eight glassfuls? New research says we don’t. Experts say most people get adequate fluids in the normal course of the day because more than water, it is the overall fluid intake through the day that matters, which includes water found naturally in fruits and vegetables, juices, milk and yoghurt, and even the much-abused dieuretics such as tea and coffee.

How can you tell if you are getting enough water? Let thirst be your guide. Apart from that, tell-tale dehydration signs are dry and scaly skin, muscle cramps and frequent constipation. Acute dehydration lowers blood pressure, increases heart rate, makes the eyes appear sunken, and causes lethargy and confusion. There are times when you should not wait for signs of thirst before replenishing water, such as when the weather is hot and sweaty, when you’re doing strenuous activity outdoors, or are down with an illness.

Guard against dehydration

Babies, children, the elderly and people who are fasting or ill need more water than healthy people. Since babies and children are more susceptible to dehydration because of their smaller body weights, keeping sachets of oral rehydration solution or sports drinks such as Gatorade in homes with young children is a good idea.

A plus of staying well hydrated is that water fills up your stomach and lowers hunger pangs, keeping weight under control. This is the main reason why most weight-loss programmes recommend drinking lots of water through the day, especially before a meal. The really good news for caffeine addicts like me is that we can count tea and coffee as fluid. Given the endless cups of tea and coffee most of us have, I think we can survive on a bottle of water, or two, if you are the active, outdoorsy type.