Avoid health risks by staying properly hydrated in the summer

Normally, our bodies are pretty reliable and responsive to triggers. When we feel an itch, we scratch. When we are tired, we yawn. And when we feel thirsty, we drink.

But you don't necessarily have to feel thirsty to be dehydrated, especially when you are spending a long time outdoors in hot, sunny and possibly humid weather.

Overexposure to these conditions coupled with overexertion can quickly deplete your body of hydration. And that can quickly lead to troubling side effects if you are not careful.

“You are more likely to become dehydrated in the warmer months because, as heat increases, your body sweats more to cool you down. People also tend to be more active in the summer and partake in outdoor activities when the temperatures and humidity are higher,” says Mascha Davis, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of “Eat Your Vitamins.”

Khristee Rich, a Ridgefield, Connecticut-based holistic health expert, agrees.

“Becoming dehydrated in the summer is common. We are more active, it's hotter outside, and we may not realize how we need to replenish our fluids,” she cautions.

Outdoor athletes are more susceptible to becoming dehydrated, as they spend more time in the heat — increasing body temperature and sweat rate.

“Older adults are also at risk because, as you age, your body naturally has a lower volume of water and your thirst senses aren't as sharp,” Davis notes. “Older adults are also more likely to be on medications like diuretics that can contribute to dehydration as well as suffer from dementia, which may make them forget to hydrate. And children are also at risk, as they are more likely to experience diarrhea or vomiting that can lead to dehydration. They aren't as aware of thirst cues, either, or may not have the ability to get a drink themselves.”

Common red flags of dehydration include excessive thirst, fatigue, dizziness, darker urine and less frequent urination, confusion and headaches.

Dr. Jay Woody, the Plano, Texas-based chief medical officer for Intuitive Health, says if your dehydration results from being exposed to too much heat, the body warms up and can no longer regulate itself.

“The body typically regulates its temperature by sweating. Think of an overheating computer or phone that no longer functions because it has reached its maximum temperature level,” he explains. “When the body cannot regulate itself, things go wrong and symptoms begin to appear. It can be made worse when humidity is high, as sweat doesn't evaporate quickly in humid conditions, which means it further prevents the body from expelling heat via sweating.”

To avoid dehydration, it's important to drink plenty of liquids, especially water.

“The recommended intake for water is between 2.7 and 3.7 liters of water per day for women and men, respectively,” Davis says. “Water is a great start, but for sweaty days and longer workouts, it's likely not enough. You may also need to replace electrolytes like sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, and calcium, which is where sports drinks like Gatorade and electrolyte supplements come into play.”

If you've been out in the sun, be sure to consume plenty of liquids and find a cool place that will help lower your body temperature.

“A cool shower or soak can also help reduce the body's temperature. Also, make sure you are not wearing constricting clothing, which further traps heat,” Woody advises.

Regarding water consumption, Woody cautions not to consume more than one liter per hour.

“For anyone determined to stay hydrated, make sure you are drinking water throughout the day and not all at once,” Woody says. “Drinking too much water can lead to water intoxication, also known as overhydration. This happens when the electrolytes in the body become imbalanced and sodium in the bloodstream is diluted. That's when cells in the body begin to swell, including brain cells, leading to brain trauma such as seizures or coma.”

A child is drinking clean water from a bottle. Hot summer day.
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