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Published on October 13, 2020

young woman drinking water during exercise

Dehydration: It’s Much More than Being Thirsty

It might seem simple, especially in the heat of summer, to address the issue of dehydration. “Just drink more water.” It seems simple enough, but the impacts of not drinking enough hit our bodies – and our minds – in ways we don’t realize.

Dehydration does hit the brain, long before we feel thirsty. Water helps the body maintain normal temperature, and it lubricates our joins. It also protects the brain and spinal cord and helps us eliminate waste through urine and sweat. But on a hot day, mild dehydration can set in quickly, especially if you’re engaged in hard work or strenuous exercise.

That lack of water can hit your mood and your energy level, and it can make the brain work harder to complete tasks. Studies have shown that the frontal-parietal region of the brain uses more energy when we are suffering from mild dehydration. It works harder – but not better. The same studies showed people who were using that extra energy were actually performing worse on problem-solving tasks than the group which had proper hydration.

Dry mouth, decreased urine output and few tears when you cry all are signs you’re leaving the slightly unpleasant area of mild dehydration and heading towards the more serious and potentially dangerous realm of severe dehydration. Severe dehydration is a medical emergency and should be treated as such, especially with children and older adults.

Some of the telltale signs of severe dehydration include:

  • Shriveling skin and low blood pressure
  • Dark urine or no ability to pass urine at all
  • Extremely dry mouth and mucous membranes
  • Dizzy feelings sometimes paired with confusion or irritability

Drinking more fluids will help alleviate the symptoms and impacts of dehydration in most adults, but medical attention should be sought if diarrhea, especially with vomiting or fever, occurs. If you or your loved one tries to drink water but can’t keep it down, or has had diarrhea for more than 24 hours, you should go to a hospital emergency room.

Of course, the simple solution of drinking more water can help tremendously. Plan ahead and pack plenty of water along with when you’re heading outside, even if your agenda isn’t one focused on hard work. Better to keep those “fluid levels” in the engine of your body topped off. Use whatever methods you need – extra water bottles, flavorings for them, or even setting reminders on your phone – just keep that water coming and you’ll avoid the issues – some of which are serious – that can come from dehydration.

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