Drinking fluids (like water) is a key to good health. Your body needs water to function properly.
And the electrolytes in water help distribute and control fluid throughout your body, regulate your blood pressure, and help your muscles contract (especially the heart).
That’s why staying hydrated is crucial year-round. And especially during the dog days of summer, where overheating can quickly lead to dehydration.
But what you may not know is that the older you get, the harder it may be to stay properly hydrated. Let’s take a closer look at why, and what you can do about it…
Conquer dehydration as you age
Reduced thirst. Your thirst is normally a good guide to drinking enough for adequate hydration. But as you age, you may experience a diminished sensation of thirst. Researchers don’t know exactly why, but it’s a well-reported phenomenon.
The solution: Remind yourself to drink water throughout the day. (For the best drinking water sources, see the sidebar below.)
The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that men drink about 125 ounces of fluid a day, and women drink about 91 ounces.1 But I often suggest you aim to enjoy four to six cups of liquids per day. (This amount should cause you to urinate somewhere between five and seven times daily—an ideal amount, biologically.)
And remember, these recommendations are for fluids—not just water. You can also get healthy fluids from fresh fruits (like in refreshing fruit smoothies) and from fresh vegetables (as in cold soups like gazpacho). A beer or two daily can also do the trick, as I write on page 3. So can moderate amounts of coffee and organic, full-fat milk.
You can even “spice up” a glass of water with 400 to 500 mg daily of rooibos (“red bush”) powder, which can be combined with other healthy (and tasty) food powders like blueberry, rose hips, and dandelion.
(Even professional athletes enjoy these drink combinations. In one case, Paul Lessard—the head trainer of my old home team, the Boston Red Sox—offered rooibos to the entire team during the 2007 post-season…and they unexpectedly went on to win the World Series!)
Whatever you do, just stay away from soft drinks, which studies show disrupt your normal thirst mechanism.
Poor fluid storage. As you get older, research shows your body becomes less able to store fluids.
In particular, higher blood sugar can lead to more fluid loss in the urine—because excess sugar is filtered out of the body by the kidneys through more frequent urination.
Gastrointestinal (GI) upsets can also cause fluid loss. Aside from recognized medical conditions, I find the most common cause of GI fluid loss is a disruption or imbalance of the probiotics (good bacteria) in the gut.
The solution: You can help reduce inflammation and support healthy blood sugar through a balanced, Mediterranean-style diet that includes plenty of organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed and -finished meat like lamb, full-fat dairy (like cheeses and yogurt), and olive oil.
This diet also helps support a healthy GI microbiome, as it’s filled with prebiotic foods that “feed” the probiotic bacteria in your gut.
Whatever you do, just avoid probiotic pills. They’re ineffective and can even be dangerous.
Drug side effects. Many of the medications routinely prescribed to seniors (especially laxatives and diuretics) can lead to fluid loss and dehydration.
The solution: Ironically, the best laxative of all is water. If you’re feeling constipated, drink a glass (or two) of water. You’ll be surprised at how quickly and well this works to relieve your symptoms.
The second-best laxative is naturally fibrous foods like whole fruits and vegetables. So if you stay hydrated and eat my recommended five servings of fresh produce each day, you’ll most likely get better,safer results than any laxative pill.
Signs of dehydration
Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can be deadly. That’s why it’s imperative to watch for the early signs of dehydration:
- Dark yellow urine
- Sweating profusely (which can lead to dehydration)
If you experience any of these symptoms, immediately drink a glass (or more) of water. If the symptoms persist, seek medical attention.
Above all, make a water bottle a summertime accessory, along with a good sun hat. (Just remember to ditch plastic water bottles. Stick with glass or stainless steel instead.)
Because when the heat is on, staying properly hydrated is one of the best things you can do for your health—especially as you get older.
SIDEBAR: A guide to safe and healthy drinking water
In his classic 1798 poem, “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote: “Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.”
That famous line could well describe the public water supply in many parts of the U.S. Because in addition to aging, toxic, infrastructure for municipal water sources, intentional (like chlorine) and unintentional (outlined below) contaminants pose a major challenge to the safety of our water. That’s why you should avoid drinking tap water, whenever possible.
For instance, tens of millions of Americans take prescription drugs every day and then excrete them in their urine—sending drug residues into our water system. People also intentionally flush unused medications down the toilet.
As a result, one study found evidence of 56 different pharmaceutical agents in “treated” drinking water among municipal systems serving more than 40 million people!2
Pesticide run-off is another problem.
In fact, according to a new study, 25 different pesticides have been found in surface water throughout the U.S. The study links these pesticides with chronic health problems like cancer, Parkinson’s disease, memory loss, reproductive disorders, and congenital disabilities.3
So what can you do instead? Many people opt for bottled water. But you have to be cautious when choosing a supplier. Some brands are actually just overpriced tap water.
Plus, many of the dangerous and wasteful plastic-bottled waters crowding the shelves at supermarkets are put out by soft drink companies as yet another source of big profits. Not to mention the environmental impact of all of those plastic bottles ending up in landfills!
Over the years, I’ve found that mineral and spring waters (bottled at the sources in glass containers) are the best and safest drinking water. But they can be a little expensive for regular use.
So another option is to augment these waters with filtered tap water. Companies like PUR and Brita® sell faucet filters that have been certified to remove contaminants such as heavy metals, pesticides, and industrial chemicals. They don’t produce water as pure as mineral and spring waters, but they’re safer than regular tap water…and more environmentally friendly than plastic bottled water.
You can also find out just how contaminated your local water source is by checking out the yearly Consumer Confidence Reports issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For more information, visit cdc.gov and type “Consumer Confidence Reports” into the search bar.
2“Concentrations of prioritized pharmaceuticals in effluents from 50 large wastewater treatment plants in the US and implications for risk estimation”. Environ. Pollut. 184, 354–359 (2014).
3“Pesticides in Drinking Water-A Review.” Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jan 8;18(2):468.