Walking & Hydration
Since our bodies are composed of about 66 percent water, keeping hydrated is vitally important to our health and well-being. Water in our body is used for everything from energy production, temperature regulation, metabolic functions and waste elimination. As you become more active, you need to consume more. But how much? When is the best time to hydrate? And how can you tell if you are hydrating properly?
External & Internal Factors to Consider
With a walking program (or any activity) you need to pay attention to both external and internal factors to determine the proper amount of water you should be drinking. External factors include the outside temperature, sun and shade exposure, the distance of your walk and the humidity level. Generally temperatures above 60 degrees and humidity over 60 percent begin to affect your body’s hydration system.
Internal factors can vary widely from person to person. Your physical size (larger people will sweat more than smaller people), the intensity of your effort (higher intensity/speed equals more sweat) and the intensity in which you sweat (some people sweat quickly and in copious amounts, while others barely “glow”) all play into the hydration equation. And certain drugs such as antihistamines and some blood-pressure medications may cause dehydration or interfere with sweating.
Keeping hydrated properly is a balancing act of input and output. Input is drinking fluids prior, during or after activity and output is either in the form of sweating, or going to the bathroom.
When & How Much
A general rule is to drink about 64 ounces of water a day – about eight, eight ounce glasses. Drinking one or two glasses of water one to two hours before exercise helps the body to reach a comfortable level of hydration. During your walk, try to drink about four to five ounces every 15 minutes. Since an average sip of water equals one fluid ounce, four to five sips (three to four large gulps) of fluid every 15 minutes is a good general rule. Alter accordingly to external variables such as sun, humidity and intensity. Follow up your walk with two to three glasses of water within an hour.
Water or ?
Water is the ideal fluid for proper hydration, but other fluids can be consumed as long as you know and understand the effects of the ingredients. Sport drinks should contain 8 percent or less of carbohydrate to be absorbed properly. High sugar content or simple sugars in fluids can slow absorption. Carbonated drinks can cause stomach distress. Caffeine and alcohol are diuretics and can contribute to fluid loss.
To jazz up your water a bit, try adding a squeeze of lemon or other citrus fruit to your water bottle. Some electrolyte replacement powders can be mixed with water to provide taste, which may enhance drinking and provide needed minerals lost through sweat.
Signs of Dehydration
Lack of water can lead to muscle cramps, major headaches, fatigue, unclear thinking and heat stroke so it’s important to ensure this vital ingredient is always high on your preparation list for your walks. As a rule of thumb, if you are feeling thirsty, you are already becoming hydrated. Drink often and regularly!
If you worry about drinking too much and having to urinate too often, plan your walks with convenient restroom stops. Avoid the diuretics (coffee, tea or alcohol) prior to walking and don’t over-hydrate by forcing fluids prior to your walk. Timing is important. Have your last drink 20-30 minutes before beginning and empty your bladder. Studies show that drinking longer than 30 minutes prior to exercise can cause diuresis (excessive urination) at the onset of exercise.
Water for Optimal Health
In addition to keeping you hydrated on your walks, water helps to prevent muscle cramping, is a lubricant for your joints, it hydrates your skin cells and gives your face a younger appearance, is good for digestion and helps to keep your bowels regular.
As an added bonus, it has been proven that drinking water helps to lose weight! Studies show that people who drink two glasses of water twenty to thirty minutes before they have a meal consumed on average 75 less calories in that meal and lost a greater number of pounds then those who did not drink water prior to eating. If this action were continued for one year, a person could lose 14½ pounds.
So fill up those water bottles and drink to your health!
Learn more about hydration and related topics in our Health Library.