By Nicole Gould, RDN
Our brain cells rely heavily on proper hydration. Water influences cerebral blood flow, delivers nutrients to the brain, removes toxins, normalizes blood pressure, and is necessary for the brain to function properly. Recent literature suggests that even mild dehydration – a body water loss of 1-2% – can impair cognitive functions like attentiveness, critical thinking and memory. The simple fact is, if you are not properly hydrated, your brain suffers. If you are concerned about the health of your brain and optimizing your cognition, drinking water should be at the top of your priority list.
How much do you need?
Though specific water requirements vary by age, weight, activity level, and medications, a general minimum requirement is about 5 – 6 cups (40-48 ounces) per day. Sure, you could drink this much and survive, but if you are looking to better your health and your cognitive function, doing the bare minimum isn’t going to bring about improvements. Start by drinking half your body weight, in ounces. Brain health experts suggest aiming for 8 – 10 cups (or more if active) for those looking for cognitive benefits.
Tips to Increase Your Water Intake
- Start every morning with a full glass (or two) of water. Before you have coffee, tea or anything else, finish at least 1 glass or pure water.
- Keep a water tally sheet. Every time you have a glass, mark it off.
- Set alarms throughout the day or make non-negotiable times to drink water, so you drink even if you aren’t thirsty.
- Get a container or pitcher that holds 64 ounces (or your daily requirement) to keep on the counter or in the fridge. Challenge yourself to finish the pitcher every day.
- Keep a reusable bottle of water with you wherever you go. If it’s by you, you are more likely to drink it.
- If you go for a walk or a drive, take water with you.
- Drink a glass with each meal and snack. If you eat, you drink water.
- Add a natural punch of flavor to your water by adding cucumber slices, fresh herbs, or a squeeze of lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit.
Make a conscious effort to increase your water intake for a few days. Eventually, drinking water will become a habit that you won’t even have to think about – and your brain will thank you.
What’s Keeping You from Drinking Water?
Many have heard about the importance of drinking water, but still struggle with increasing their intake. Here’s some common reasons behind not drinking water, along with solutions to help you drink more.
“I’m not thirsty” You don’t have to feel thirsty to need water. In fact, the signal for thirst lags behind our actual level of hydration. By the time you feel, thirsty you are already dehydrated. In addition, older people don’t sense thirst as much as they did when they were younger. Set alarms throughout the day, or make non-negotiable times to drink, even if you don’t feel thirsty.
“I don’t need that much water” You may not feel like you need that much water because your body has gotten used to not having it. Our bodies are incredible and can prioritize where water is used if it is scarce. Unfortunately, this turns things into survival mode, versus having enough to optimize your health. If you are concerned about your cognitive health, trust the brain experts that say, “you need it!”
“I don’t like the taste” Water should taste neutral. If the water you’re drinking has a strong or “funny” taste, consider switching up your water source. Filtered water should have no taste or smell. If you need to have flavor or sweetness, you are most likely too used to sweet things and need to work on reducing your intake of sugar. Beverages with sweeteners like sugar, corn syrup, Aspartame, Splenda, and even natural sweeteners like Stevia should be reduced so your taste buds can re-sensitize and water will become more palatable. If you absolutely won’t drink water any other way, add a splash or grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange, some berries or cucumber slices. Or, try a sparkling water like Waterloo or Spindrift which only use natural flavors without added sweetness.
“Water makes me urinate more” That’s true, and can be an adjustment at first, but that’s the body doing what it is supposed to do. Once your body acclimates to an increase in water, the frequent urination should normalize. If you are concerned with urinating at night, drink the majority during the day and cut back in the evening.
“I was told I can use food and other beverages to count as water” Broths, melons, citrus fruits, cucumbers and celery are great foods to help you hydrate, BUT they are not total replacements for water. The general recommendation of half your body weight in ounces, takes those foods into consideration. Furthermore, many things in our diet that are dehydrating which must be compensated for – including salty foods, high protein foods, caffeine and alcohol.
Don’t let these feelings stand in your way and drink up to better health and a better brain!