When you make your list of summer health must-haves, water should be right up there with sunscreen. But in reality, it doesn’t sit high on many people’s priority list.
Whether you’re working out or just having fun in the sun, staying hydrated is essential for keeping your body happy.
“It’s about prevention. Drink water before, during and after being outside or being active,” says Dr. Holly Russell of Highland Family Medicine in Rochester.
The dangers of drying out
Even mild dehydration can trigger debilitating side effects—fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness and lack of appetite—which can be remedied with a few of glasses of water. If you are urinating less than normal, have dark urine or you’re unusually thirsty, you may be experiencing moderate dehydration.
“In this case, stop your activity, get into the shade or an air conditioned environment, and drink enough fluids to make up for the fluids you’ve lost,” Russell says.
The situation gets dangerous when mild dehydration is left untreated, leading to severe dehydration, the symptoms of which include extreme thirst, little to no urination, sunken eyes, shriveled and dry skin, fever, and delirium or unconsciousness, says the Mayo Clinic.
It doesn’t stop there. Severe dehydration can lead to heat stroke, which occurs when your body can’t produce enough sweat to cool itself and your internal temperature rises dangerously high, says Johns Hopkins Medicine. Both severe dehydration and heat stroke require immediate medical attention.
“Where people get in trouble is when they begin to experience diarrhea or vomiting, which can prevent them from keeping fluids down and require a hospital visit to get IV fluids,” Russell says.
A few ways to hydrate
So, in addition to drinking enough water, how can you stay hydrated? For one thing, avoid caffeine and alcohol if you plan to be in the sun for a while.
“If you’re going to have a drink at a picnic, be mindful and alternate it with a glass of water,” Russell says. “Avoid alcohol altogether if you’re going to be spending time in the sun.”
Eating fruits and vegetables can also help, says clinical dietitian April Miller, with the University of Rochester Healthy Living Center. “Fruits and vegetables have a lot of water in them and they contain electrolytes like potassium,” Miller says.
While sports drinks can help you re-hydrate, especially after a workout, Russell says water is still your best bet.
“Sports drinks have electrolytes in them, which can be useful if you’re losing a lot of salt through your sweat,” Russell says. “But most people aren’t losing that much salt, and sports drinks have sugar and calories in them unlike water, which is calorie-free.”