Lockdown is affecting every aspect of our lives – how we work or study, how we socialise, how we exercise and who we see. Even the way we eat and drink is likely to have altered with so much time being spent in the home and relatively little outdoors. One thing that can be affected by these changes is hydration.
It’s easy to forget to top up your hydration levels when you’re struggling to establish and maintain a new routine while also working from home and possibly looking after older or younger relatives. But making sure you drink enough water can make a big difference to your overall health and to how you feel.
Why is hydration important?
Did you know that water makes up around 60% of your body, and over 70% of your brain? With this in mind, it’s no surprise that being dehydrated can affect us in many different ways. Even mild dehydration can influence brain function, affecting concentration, alertness and even short-term memory. Not drinking enough water sometimes causes headaches and migraines, and can even have an impact on mood. Studies have shown that people who are dehydrated might feel tired, confused and sometimes angry.
Dehydration can also put a strain on some internal organs, such as the kidneys and the heart, and affect the skin’s appearance and health. Luckily, all of these effects can be prevented or reversed by drinking enough water.
How much water do we need?
Our bodies are constantly losing water (mainly through sweat and going to the toilet), so we need to make sure we’re replacing any water being lost. The British Dietetic Association recommends that younger people (aged nine to 13) need between 1.5 and 1.7 litres of water per day, and those aged 13 and over need between 1.6 and 2 litres per day – the same amount that adults are advised to drink.
The amount of water a person needs can vary depending on individual characteristics – for example, males typically need more water than females; people who exercise a lot need more than those who don’t; and those who live in warmer climates need more than their counterparts in colder parts of the world. As a general rule-of-thumb, however, try to drink at least six to eight glasses of water each day.
How can we tell if we’re dehydrated?
Fortunately, there are ways to tell if you’re not getting enough water. Keep an eye out for some of the signs already mentioned – feeling tired and sluggish, mood swings or the onset of a headache. Other symptoms can be a dry mouth and lips or feeling dizzy and light-headed. You can also pay attention to the colour of your pee. During the day, aim for a pale-yellow, straw colour – anything darker suggests you could be dehydrated and need to drink more. Try not to wait until you’re thirsty to drink because this can mean that you’re already dehydrated.
What if we’re not keen on water?
There are plenty of other drinks that can contribute towards a healthy fluid intake. These might include tea and coffee (be careful of consuming too much caffeine, however), milk (and non-dairy alternatives), and fruit juices and smoothies (the NHS suggests the latter are limited to 150ml per day because of their high sugar content).
Foods with a high water content also play a part in hydration. Some examples of hydrating foods include soups, stews, yoghurts, and fruits and veg such as melon, strawberries, cucumber, lettuce and peppers.
Top tips for staying hydrated during lockdown life:
- Have a drink with every meal.
- Snack on hydrating foods – choose yoghurts, fruits and veggies.
- Find a drink you like – if you don’t enjoy the taste of water, try adding chopped fruit or some low-sugar squash.
- Make a large drink every time you sit down to do something that you’ll be focusing on for a while, like preparing for a conference call, writing an article or essay or just watching a film.
- Try to drink constantly throughout the day – set regular reminders on your phone if you need a prompt.
- If you go outdoors to exercise, take a water bottle with you and make sure to rehydrate when you get back home too.
- Get others involved – challenge your family, or your friends via social media, to get their six to eight glasses a day.
- Create a hydration tick chart to pin on your fridge – each drink equals one tick. Try to reach six to eight ticks per day!
Words: Harriet Smith, Registered Dietitian – surreydietitian.co.uk.
The information and advice offered in this article is solely educational and provides general suggestions only. It is not a substitute for seeing a registered dietitian or another qualified healthcare professional.
For more information, visit nhs.uk and bda.uk.com.
Illustration via shutterstock