The summer heat is here, and temperature records are already falling around the world. With plenty of hot weather left, here are some things you should know about staying hydrated and healthy, so you don’t have to skip your summer adventures!
Drinking water is essential, especially during the warm summer months. It helps your body stay cool and prevent overheating. The primary way your body regulates your temperature and gets rid of extra heat is through sweat.
When your core temperature goes above 98.6, your body starts to sweat. As sweat evaporates off your skin, it cools you. As you sweat, you lose water. Your body uses a lot of water to make and release enough sweat to cool off in hot or humid conditions. If you lose too much water, you become dehydrated.
What is dehydration?
Dehydration is simply when your body doesn’t have enough water to function properly. Our bodies are roughly 75% water! Most people can lose up to 4% of their total body water without experiencing severe symptoms of dehydration.
If you lose between 5 and 8% of your body water, you might begin to experience adverse symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, and you will probably feel pretty thirsty.
A loss of 10% or more of your body water can cause severe symptoms like loss of physical function, confusion and disorientation, extreme thirst, and other serious conditions.
If you lose more than 15 to 20% of your body water, you risk death
Babies, young children, people with some chronic illnesses, and elderly people are at higher risk for dehydration. There is also a greater risk for dehydration at higher altitudes and in very humid climates.
Early symptoms of dehydration
The first signs of dehydration are thirst and dark colored urine. In fact, you are probably already mildly dehydrated when you begin to feel thirsty. A loss of just 1 to 2% of body water is considered mild dehydration, and it can affect your athletic performance. Dehydration can be a cause of muscle cramps during exercise.
Many people develop a headache and general discomfort during the early stages of dehydration. You might also feel irritable or achy. As your body works to conserve water, it will decrease urine production, and you will probably have dry, cracked lips and a dry mouth.
More advanced symptoms of dehydration include lack of urine or very dark colored urine, confusion, lethargy, low blood pressure, increased heart rate, cold or dry skin, and sunken eyes.
To treat dehydration, you must replenish all the body water lost through sweat. Most people can treat mild dehydration on their own by drinking plenty of fluids and eating foods with a lot of liquid.
Not all beverages treat or prevent dehydration! Clear liquids like water, clear broths, ice pops, and electrolyte drinks (like Gatorade or natural options like coconut water) are ideal liquids for treating dehydration.
If you are dehydrated, you should avoid any drinks that have alcohol or caffeine like tea, coffee, and sodas. These drinks tend to cause your body to become more dehydrated. Fruit juices usually have too many carbohydrates and too little sodium to help rehydrate you. They may also upset your stomach.
Staying hydrated will make your summers far more enjoyable and much safer.
How much water do you need?
You’ve probably heard the rule of thumb “drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.” For most people, that is enough water to stay hydrated. However, your body probably needs more water fluids if you are planning to be active in the summer heat.
Exercise or physical activities cause you to sweat, increasing the risk of dehydration. Hot or humid climates also make you sweat more, and you should drink extra fluids. Be sure to carry water with you and have it readily available.
If you plan to be outside or participating in physical activity for more than an hour in the summer heat, consider bringing both water and sports drinks. The electrolytes in sports drinks replace the salt and minerals in your blood that is lost through sweat.
Everyone’s body is different, and people sweat at different rates. If you are a heavy sweater or you notice salt traces on your clothing after you sweat, this may be a sign that your body requires more electrolytes and water than the average person.
Other hydration sources
Many fruits and vegetables are a great source of healthy liquids. Watermelon, for example, is about 92% water by weight—and is an excellent summer afternoon treat.
Strawberries, peaches, cucumbers, lettuce, tomatoes, and celery are other water-rich summer fruits and vegetables that help fight dehydration. Loading your summer diet with these healthy foods adds lots of good vitamins, minerals, and fluids to help ward off dehydration.
If you are an athlete or participating in outdoor activities that require heavy exertion, chocolate milk is a surprisingly good recovery drink. It has a healthy balance of carbohydrates, sugars, fats, and water to rehydrate your body and help your muscles rebuild.
Some foods that aid in keeping you hydrated include cottage cheese, plain yogurt, and soups (though not many people want to enjoy a steaming bowl of soup in the summertime).
In addition to staying hydrated, staying cool also helps make summer adventures more enjoyable.
Staying in the shade not only helps fight dehydration, but it also helps keep your core body temperature down. Shade from trees and plants is actually cooler than shade created by buildings. Trees release moisture into the atmosphere to keep themselves and the surrounding air cooler. Take advantage of this natural cooling system by heading to the woods for your next summer outdoor adventure.
Wear breathable clothing
Less clothing isn’t always the right answer. Keeping dangerous UV rays from the sun off your skin can help fight the heat. Choose light-colored, breathable, loose-fitting clothing that will allow sweat to evaporate from your skin while keeping your body shaded from direct sunlight.
Choose a loose, wide-brimmed hat to shade your head and neck from the hot sun.
Lower your core temperature
In sweltering climates, use ice and cold towels on your head and neck to help lower your core body temperature. If you are participating in strenuous physical activity in high temperatures, keep a cooler with cold drinks, ice, and towels handy.
If you are backpacking or hiking, bring a towel to dip in a stream or soak with water and drape over your neck or head.
Avoid the hottest parts of the day
Seek shade or water during the hottest parts of the day. Between 10 am and 4 pm, the sun is usually the most intense and the temperatures skyrocket.
If you are backpacking or hiking, start early and plan to take a long rest in a shaded area during the heat of the day. You are at higher risk for dehydration and heat-related illnesses during the heat of the day.
Pay close attention to your body if you plan to participate in any physical activities during the hottest hours of the day. Know the early signs of dehydration and heat exhaustion.
Do you have a favorite way to stay cool and hydrated in the summer heat? Share in the comments below.