You may recall from high school chemistry that water is the "universal solvent" with unique, do-it-all properties that make it a stud of a substance. It has polarity – negatively and positively-charged moments. It can be solid, liquid or gas, it can be acidic or basic and it can dissolve other substances readily and still maintain its integrity as water.
You probably also remember learning that the human body is more than 60% water.
For most people, that’s about as much as we think about water in terms of chemistry or biology, but this is just at the point when it gets interesting. In this article, what starts out as a basic chemistry refresher will give you a solid understanding on water’s critical role in your health, fitness, and maintaining your optimal weight (extra points for catching very pun).
Water is inside every one of your cells (intracellular water). Outside of your cells (extracellular), water occurs as the main component of blood plasma, and creates space between cells and tissues. The human body works constantly to maintain the correct balance of intracellular and extracellular water. This balancing act is crucial for fluid balance, nutrient delivery via the blood stream, and cellular function at all levels. The body maintains this balance of extracellular and intracellular water through manipulation of charged particles called electrolytes. Among electrolytes, sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium and calcium are the big guns. By constantly working the concentration gradients of electrolytes, the body can corral the water where is most needed. If your electrolyte balance gets thrown off – if electrolytes become too concentrated or too diluted – this wreaks chaos at the cellular level and all systems get thrown off, leaving you feeling sluggish, stiff, weak, or shaky.
You don't have to be running a marathon or sweating in a hot car to become dehydrated. Just being alive, sitting at your desk, water evaporates through our skin into the air at a constant rate all day, so if you’re not conscious of your water intake, you are probably becoming dehydrated without knowing it.
Here are some things to think about as you make your way to the water fountain to refill your water bottle:
All body functions: Your main transport system in your body is blood plasma. Blood plasma delivers all nutrients to all of the cells of your body. Each and every cell in your body gets "washed" each day by the water you take in and the water you respire into the atmosphere, or lose as urine or sweat. When you sweat during a hard workout, or dehydrate slowly during the day, you are literally losing blood plasma and extracellular fluid into the air. So in a dehydrated state, your blood plasma is thicker and less viscous. Think of jelly being pushed through your veins. When you rehydrate (or better yet stay hydrated), think of a fresh flowing stream running through your blood vessels, delivering nutrients and clearing waste products.
Mood and brain-power: Recent studies show that being dehydrated even 1 - 2% can increase feelings of anxiety depression and lead to trouble concentrating.
Inner space: Intercellular space – water between cells in any organ – creates space within tissues, thus making tissue appear more plump and allowing greater nutrient delivery. Your skin is one organ that aesthetically benefits from this added volume. As you dehydrate, the skin cells will begin to shrivel and get smaller because they are losing water volume. This concept holds true for all body organs. If you’re dehydrated by even 1-2%, their function is compromised, leaving your body fighting to regain homeostasis and fluid balance, instead of cruising at full capacity.
Looking your best: Staying hydrated removes impurities from your body, keeps your cells plump and firm, helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles and keeps your skin looking healthy and fresh.
Joints and connective tissue: Joints are full of synovial fluid, which is, guess what? Mainly water as well. If your electrolyte balance gets thrown off or dehydration occurs, your synovial fluid will change consistency, compromising the friction inside the joint capsule, leaving you more prone to pain and injury.
Water and Movement: Connective tissue, including fascia, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons, is 80% water and the first tissue to lose water in dehydration. Brittle cartilage is bad news, as cartilage is designed to be supple and resilient to disperse force and protect the bone joint and muscle around it. Feeling stiff? Drink some water!
Water and weight loss: Water has benefits for weight loss on many levels. Drink a bunch of water and it makes you feel full, so you eat less. That’s a no-brainer, but there are some other mechanisms at work here, too. When you are completely hydrated, all nutrients are being delivered at the proper rate, so you not only do you feel better, you feel less hungry. This is because your body isn’t signaling that you are missing nutrients. When hydrated your “rate of perceived exertion” is significantly decreased, so everything, from workouts to daily activities, feel less difficult. Workouts and general movement feel easier. Research suggests that decision-making skills and mood are effected by hydration status, which also helps you to make better food choices.
Some like it hot…but: Ingesting water that is cooler than your body temperature has a thermogenic effect. Your body must maintain a constant body temperature of 98.6 degrees. So here’s a nice little benefit of drinking cold water: Your body spends calories heating up all the chilled water you ingest!
Water and disease prevention: There is a plethora of current research on the link between chronic stress levels and chronic diseases. Links to pH (acidity) and chronic stress and disease prevalence also are being researched in depth. Constant dehydration is a source of low-grade chronic stress on the body, suggesting this can open the window for stress-related diseases. The pH of drinking water – the acidity versus alkalinity – is also being studied as an aid to help the body maintain homeostasis in our rough-and-tumble world of everyday stressors. Maintaining good hydration ensures a proper pH balance in our bodies, thus helping to create an internal environment that is inhospitable for certain disease mechanisms.
If you want to feel great, look your best, stay healthy, and reach your weight and fitness goals, ditch sugary drinks and beverages with any artificial ingredients, ice up your water glass and hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
--Kori Lyn Angers