Hy­dra­tion vi­tal for health as we age

As we get older, get­ting enough water is more im­por­tant than ever, says Mar­garet Jen­nings

Irish Examiner - Feelgood - - Ageing With Attitude -

AS you get older, the per­cent­age of body water in pro­por­tion to your weight de­creases and your risk of de­hy­dra­tion in­creases - and what’s more, you be­come less able to tune into whether you are thirsty or not, as your brain is less ef­fi­cient at re­ceiv­ing the mes­sage.

What you may not be so aware of ei­ther, is that when you don’t take enough flu­ids, you can feel tired, con­fused, crampy, con­sti­pated, dizzy, un­able to con­cen­trate and have parched tired-look­ing skin – with­out fully real­is­ing why.

While at birth your body is more than 70% water, by the time you reach age 60 - with de­creas­ing mus­cle mass - that pro­por­tion goes down to 46% in women and 52% in men.

Al­though we may be gulp­ing down plenty of cups of caf­feine with our fam­ily and friends, that’s not suf­fi­cient, un­for­tu­nately. Caf­feine drinks are mild di­uret­ics, which means they make you uri­nate more, so you need to in­crease your in­take of water if you ex­pe­ri­ence any signs of de­hy­dra­tion, says the Health Ser­vice Ex­ec­u­tive on their web­site. Through­out the day we also may get ex­tra fluid from water-rich foods such as sal­ads, fruit, soups and stews, if they are part of our diet, but it’s gen­er­ally agreed that we must top up with water, re­gard­less.

While your cir­cum­stances dic­tate how much water you should drink, the gen­eral ad­vice from the Eu­ro­pean Food and Safety Au­thor­ity for those of us who re­side in a mod­er­ate cli­mate and par­take in nor­mal phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, is that women should drink about 1.6 litres of water a day and men about 2 litres.

Here are some rea­sons why we need to watch our in­take, as we age:

OUR SKIN: Even if only for van­ity’s sake, we need to keep gulp­ing through­out the day. De­hy­drated skin looks some­what ‘de­flated’ and lacks vi­tal­ity and ra­di­ance, just like de­hy­drated peo­ple do, says Dublin-based con­sul­tant der­ma­tol­o­gist, Rose­mary Cole­man. “When the skin gets very dried out it gets scaly and it also re­pairs more slowly if cut or in­jured. It also doesn’t look very nice to see scaly, dry, flaky skin - very com­mon on women’s legs as we age,” she says.

Rose­mary says she can tell from look­ing at her older clients’ skin if they are de­hy­drated and al­though she rec­om­mends drink­ing 2 litres of water a day, it’s not known how long it takes skin to re­cover.

She her­self is ex­tremely con­scious of stay­ing hy­drated through­out the day: “Drink­ing water is all about es­tab­lish­ing a habit; willpower goes by the way­side af­ter a few en­thu­si­as­tic days. No one has to re­mind them­selves to wash their teeth be­cause they have the habit.

“I au­to­mat­i­cally fill a 1.5-litre bot­tle with fil­tered, room tem­per­a­ture water ev­ery morn­ing. If it isn’t gone by lunchtime, I know I’ll be groggy with poorer con­cen­tra­tion, but my body will often per­ceive this as hunger and crave sugar, when in fact it’s sim­ply water that I need. I then try to drink a few more glasses as the day goes on. I feel so much bet­ter when well hy­drated.” OUR BRAIN: Re­searchers at Ge­or­gia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy pub­lished their dis­cov­ery last month that the loss of body water (de­hy­dra­tion) causes part of the brain to swell. Us­ing a brain imag­ing tech­nique called fMRI neu­roimag­ing they also showed that de­hy­dra­tion causes nerve sig­nalling to in­ten­sify, and mo­not­o­nous tasks to be­come harder.

Their find­ings add to the in­creas­ing ev­i­dence that when we are de­hy­drated the ef­fects ex­tend all the way into our brain, to tem­po­rar­ily change its shape, and al­ter our fo­cus of at­ten­tion in do­ing tasks such as mo­not­o­nous man­ual labour, caus­ing us to make mis­takes, says Pro­fes­sor Billy O’Con­nor, head of teach­ing and re­search phys­i­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Lim­er­ick Grad­u­ate En­try Med­i­cal School.

“The brain shrinks with age. How­ever, the link be­tween this shrink­age and the loss of water is not clear. Hav­ing said that, water bal­ance is vi­tal for nor­mal brain func­tion,” he tells Feel­good.

OUR PER­FOR­MANCE: Thirst is not a great in­di­ca­tor of hy­dra­tion, as you may al­ready be de­hy­drated be­fore you no­tice your thirst cues, points out con­sul­tant di­eti­cian Paula Mee.

Hy­dra­tion is cru­cial for health and per­for­mance too, whether that’s on the golf course or in the work­place, she says. “A mere 2% loss in body weight through de­hy­dra­tion is enough to im­pair per­for­mance. Other signs of de­hy­dra­tion in­clude headache, dizzi­ness, cramps, con­sti­pa­tion and nau­sea, im­paired cog­ni­tion or acute con­fu­sion, or fall­ing. And it is linked with fre­quent emer­gency hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion in the very old.”

But what if you just can’t stand drink­ing water? Paula has some sug­ges­tions to liven up those litres to sip through­out the day:

“Add sprigs of fresh herbs to your water bot­tle in­fuser, or into a large jug. Use the han­dle of a wooden spoon to bruise leaves and re­lease their flavour but don’t pul­verise the herbs or you will be left with bits in your water,” she ad­vises. “Any cit­rus fruit combo is good too, such as slices of oranges, lemons and limes. If you are us­ing a large ta­ble jug cover it and it will re­frig­er­ate for up to three days.”

Pic­ture: iS­tock

BODY OF WATER: Flu­ids are vi­tal to our over­all health and per­for­mance.

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