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The Importance of Hydration

August is Water Quality Month, a national celebration of our most important resource. On a macro scale – think urbanization, sanitation and sustainability – civilizations need water to survive, and in fact civilizations historically have sprung up near water sources: the Nile in ancient Egypt, the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia, the Ganges in India.

Here in Central Virginia, the James River flows just a few miles from Brandermill Woods as it heads into Richmond and on toward the eastern shore. In the 18th century, William Byrd II named Richmond after a town in England because the James River and the surrounding land reminded him of the mighty Thames.

Water Quality Month is an excellent time to learn about your local waterways and reflect on how your family uses water – and how small changes in your life – from picking up after your pets to limiting your use of chemicals and fertilizers – could help reduce pollution of this vital resource.

It’s also a great time, particularly for seniors, to evaluate your hydration. Our bodies are made primarily of water, and we need it for our survival. A Harvard Medical School health study suggests older adults often fail to drink enough fluids, perhaps because seniors don’t sense thirst as strongly as they used to.

In observance of Water Quality Month, here are three guidelines for staying hydrated as you sweat through the hot days of August:

1. Fluids are crucial for good health.

All of the body’s systems – circulatory, respiratory, digestive, nervous – require water to operate efficiently. Fluids transport nutrients throughout your body and flush away toxins. Water also helps you maintain proper temperature, lubricates your joints and helps you remove waste.

2. Not everyone needs the same amount – or the same amount all the time.

Athletes and outdoor enthusiasts sweat more than people who spend their summer days in air conditioning. Sports drinks (not energy drinks) can give you an added boost if you are active and dehydrated, but there’s no downside to drinking good old-fashioned H2O. Eight glasses a day is the traditional guideline, but you may get plenty of fluids from eating fruits and vegetables, so let your body (and your physician) be your guides.

3. Know the signs of dehydration.

Beyond thirst, signs of dehydration include little or no urine, dry mouth, fatigue, headaches, confusion, and dizziness or lightheadedness. You shouldn’t wait until you are experiencing these symptoms to drink up. Instead, try to maintain a steady diet of fluids throughout the day to prevent dehydration.

4. Follow these tips for drinking more water.

If you find it hard to stay hydrated throughout the day, consider a few of these tips to change your habits. Carry a bottle of water with you every day. A 32-ounce Nalgene bottle a day (four glasses of water) is a great step toward consistent hydration. If you don’t care for the taste of plain water, try adding a slice of lemon or lime to it.

If you forget to drink, consider setting a schedule, which can be accomplished as easily as adding three strips of masking tape to the water bottle – one labeled 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. The idea is that you will drink the water down to the first piece of tape by 10, reach the halfway mark after lunch, finish three-quarters of the bottle by late afternoon, and drain the 32-ounce bottle by the end of the day.

Let Water Quality Month be the reminder you need to take care of this vital need.