With summer around the corner, Intermountain Health experts give tips on the importance of hydration

Hydration is a cornerstone of healthy physical activity and optimal sports performance. But adequate hydration isn’t just for athletes. It’s vital to everyone’s good health, said Katie McDonald, a registered dietitian nutritionist for Intermountain Health.

“In our hot, dry summers, and generally high altitude, attention to adequate hydration benefits all of us at every stage of life,” McDonald said. “Children, pregnant or nursing mothers, people with certain health conditions or medications, or seniors may need specific adjustments to fluid intake. Working with your health care provider or registered dietitian can help you individualize hydration plans for your special circumstances.”

The old adage about drinking eigh glasses of water a day is easy to remember and a good starting place, but it may not be right for everyone or for all circumstances, McDonald said.

The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine estimate the following daily intake for adults:

  • Men: 15.5 cups of fluids. This is equivalent to about 3.1 cups contained in foods, and 12.4 cups from beverages.
  • Women: 11.5 cups of fluids. This equals approximately 2.3 cups from foods, and 9.2 cups from beverages.
  • Nursing mothers need an additional 16 ounces or more of water in addition to the regular recommendations to compensate for milk production.

“Water is inexpensive and the preferred choice, but it isn’t the only option for staying hydrated,” McDonald said. Beverages such as milk, juices, and herbal teas are mostly water, but people should drink coffees and sodas sparingly, as they can add unneeded sugar and calories.

Kids – especially babies and toddlers – are more likely to become dehydrated than adults because their bodies’ cooling systems are less efficient.  To meet usual fluid needs:

  • Babies 0-6 months: breastmilk and/or formula
  • Babies 6-12 months: breastmilk and/or formula plus up to 4-8 ounces of water per day
  • Children 1-3 years: 4 cups per day
  • Children 4-8 years: 5 cups per day
  • Children older than 8 years: 7 cups per day.

Water and milk are the all the drinks children need.  It’s a good idea to speak with your child’s health care provider for specific recommendations for cooling and hydration.

Children should have enough fluids to go to the bathroom every two to three hours, McDonald said, and light yellow, nearly odorless urine indicates good hydration. Kids also should drink water before, during, and after moderate to strenuous events to stay hydrated.

Older adults are at greater risk of dehydration because of normal aging changes including a decreased sense of thirst, changes in kidney function, less fluid reserve in the body, and a tendency to become overheated easily. Common medications such as diuretics can affect hydration. Many older adults limit their fluid intake to decrease trips to the bathroom.

“Dehydration in older adults is associated with a greater risk of falls resulting in trauma, disability, and death,” McDonald said. “Older adults should have a plan to assure adequate hydration on an ongoing basis for good health.”

In the summer, everyone should remember to stay hydrated in the heat and when exercising, and take extra caution when swimming, which can cause dehydration because heat and sweat often go unnoticed, McDonald said. People heading to outdoor activities also should plan their menu to include high water content foods such as watermelon, grapes, oranges or cucumbers.

It is important to recognize and treat early signs of dehydration by getting to a cool place and drinking water:

  • Thirst or dry sticky mouth
  • Headache
  • Flushed skin
  • Decreased urine output
  • Muscle cramps, joint pain
  • Premature fatigue or sleepiness
  • Slow reaction time
  • Decreased concentration
  • Increased perception of effort
  • Decreased exercise capacity

Later signs of dehydration include dizziness, weakness, vomiting, and labored breathing with exercise. A person displaying these symptoms should be moved to out of the sunshine to a cool place, apply ice packs or cold wet towels to the skin on the wrists, neck, armpits, and/or groin, and drink fluids including water, juice and/or sports drinks.

For concerns about dehydration especially for a child, a senior or someone with a medical condition, contact a health care provider.

Seek emergency care if symptoms are concerning, don’t resolve within one hour, or are accompanied by muscle stiffness, high body temperature, fast or shallow breathing, rapid pulse and/or delirium.

For more information, go to IntermountainHealth.org.

About Intermountain Health

Headquartered in Utah with locations in seven states and additional operations across the western U.S., www.intermountainhealth.org is a nonprofit system of 33 hospitals, 385 clinics, medical groups with some 3,900 employed physicians and advanced care providers, a health plans division called SelectHealth with more than one million members, and other health services. Helping people live the healthiest lives possible, Intermountain is committed to improving community health and is widely recognized as a leader in transforming healthcare by using evidence-based best practices to consistently deliver high-quality outcomes at sustainable costs. For more information or updates, see https://intermountainhealthcare.org/news.