Summer is my favorite season, and after so much cold and grey weather where I live, I love to be outside in the sun and heat. Whether I’m running, walking the dog, weeding, or simply lounging on the patio, I look for reasons to be outdoors when it’s warm.
But being active in high temps and humidity levels can lead to dehydration, especially for a group ex instructor like me, who is constantly sweating it out in fitness classes. Dehydration is caused when water loss through perspiration, urination, saliva, breathing and feces is not adequately replaced through drinking.
Symptoms of dehydration include thirst, headache, fatigue, dry skin and mouth, limited urination, urine that is dark yellow and muscle cramps. Severe dehydration can include confusion, sunken eyes, irritability, dizziness, rapid breathing and rapid heartbeat. This is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.
While older adults, people with chronic illnesses and babies and young children are most susceptible to dehydration, healthy, active adults also are at risk. Dehydration is often caused by simply not taking in enough fluids, but can also be caused by diarrhea and vomiting, which causes significant fluid loss, as well as a fever. Increased urination due to diabetes and diuretics can cause dehydration. And excessive sweating from exercise and physical activity, can lead to dehydration.
You can be chronically dehydrated and not know it, as thirst isn’t an accurate indicator of our body’s need for fluid, and some minor dehydration symptoms can be overlooked or attributed to other issues. And dehydration, combined with exposure to high temperatures, can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
The good news is that treatment for minor dehydration is simple – just drink more and eat more fruits and vegetables, which are high in water content. Here are some more specific guidelines to staying hydrated in the summer (or any time of year).
Staying Hydrated in the Summer
- Drink plenty of water – Sounds boring, but it’s the most effective way to stay dehydrated. That means ideally, you drink at least eight ounces of water in the morning, at mid-day or throughout the afternoon and at night. According to the Mayo Clinic, the age-old advice of eight glasses of water a day still stands.
To make this easier, carry a water bottle with you so you have it in your car, at work or school and certainly for workouts. If plain water isn’t appealing, you can add some lemon on lime, or try some flavored seltzer waters.
- Consume sports drinks in moderation – Most of the time, water is the best rehydrator. But if you’re training for a long time outside (more than one hour) in hot, humid weather, a sports drink that replaces electrolytes like sodium and potassium may be better. Plus, flavored drinks like this may encourage you to drink more, which makes rehydration easier.
- Drink before, during and after exercise – Your performance will be better if you start by being properly hydrated. Always bring a water bottle with you or wear a hydration pack if you’re outdoors, and use it.
- Choose fruits and veggies – Most fruit and veggies, like watermelon, strawberries, cucumbers and celery, are loaded with water, so they offer another way to help keep you hydrated. You can also eat broth-based soups and gelatin.
- Avoid diuretics – Limit consumption of coffee, tea, caffeinated sodas and alcohol, which are diuretics that actually encourage fluid loss. That’s not to say you can’t enjoy these beverages, but you must offset that fluid loss with sufficient water intake. Fruit juice is also a healthy choice, but is high in sugar and calories.
While these tips can help curb minor dehydration it is important to pay attention to your body. If you, or anyone you are with, experience symptoms of dehydration (such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke) seek medical attention immediately.