Hydration key in high altitudes

Drinking fluids important for safety in Routt County

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— Over the course of an average day, most people brush their teeth once or twice, visit the bathroom several times and eat a few meals without much thought. But studies show that many of us forget one important thing: to drink water.

The human body depends on water to help fuel every organ's work, particularly digestion, temperature regulation and tissue development.

Because 50 percent to 65 percent of our bodies are composed of the liquid, a deficiency can produce symptoms such as headaches, fatigue and muscle cramps.

Dehydration also can aggravate more serious health problems such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, asthma, dental disease and several gastrointestinal problems.

Your body provides some built-in safety measures to alert you when your water level has dipped too low.

When water loss hits 1 percent of your body weight, you may experience symptoms of mild dehydration, such as headache, lightheadedness and dulled thinking. At 4 percent or more, severe dehydration sends your blood volume and blood pressure plunging and may even lead to muscle spasms, dimmed vision, delirium, fainting or a heart attack.

"When the weather heats up, staying well-hydrated should be a top priority for everyone and especially for people who are exercising," said Marianne Osteen, wellness counselor with Yampa Valley Medical Center's Wellness Program.

Osteen spoke to participants of the hospital's walking program recently. She stressed, "Walkers may lose up to a cup of water per mile on a hot day. It's important that exercisers drink plenty of water before, during and after their activity.

"Don't wait until you are thirsty," Osteen warned.

"By that point, water loss is already at 2 percent of your body weight."

With the exception of those who suffer from hyperthyroidism or congestive heart failure, no one has to worry about drinking too much water. The amount of water you need varies according to your gender, weight and activity level. You get most of what you need from a normal diet of food and beverages. However, experts recommend consuming at least five eight-ounce cups of water or more per day.

At Routt County's altitude, drinking 64 ounces daily is recommended.

To be certain you're drinking enough water, check your urine. If it is clear or pale yellow and virtually odorless, you're getting enough. Dark yellow and strong-smelling urine should be a reminder to drink a few more glasses of water.

"High-calorie sports drinks may taste good, but you should reach for water first," Osteen advised. For those who exercise for less than an hour, cold water is an excellent choice because it is easily absorbed.

Osteen recommends that if you exercise longer than one hour at a time, "You will probably perform better if you consume some carbohydrates in addition to fluids."

Most sports drinks provide 14 to 20 grams of carbohydrate per eight-ounce serving as well as some electrolytes. Electrolytes help in the absorption of water so these drinks may be beneficial for longer bouts of athletic performance.

Getting enough fluids is vital to your health. Use good sense and you will be able to enjoy your time outdoors this summer, no matter how hot it gets.

Lisa A. Bankard, M.S., is wellness coordinator for Yampa Valley Medical Center and the Yampa Valley Health Plan.

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