The Neglected Nutrient

I wrote last week about the three lessons I try to impart to my clients–Baby Boomers and older adults: water intake, protein amount and distribution, and fruit and vegetable consumption.  Today I want to concentrate on water intake, and remind everybody about how easy it is to let a lack of fluid become a critical issue.

Add fruits and vegetables to water and drink more!

Deteriorating Quickly

Dehydration happens often, and it’s become a familiar story with many older adults I know: a senior doesn’t feel well and stops eating and drinking as much as usual. She becomes fatigued and confused. If nobody’s paying attention, or if she lives alone, the lack of water can quickly become a life-threatening event.

We forget that water is a vital nutrient; life is simply not possible without it. Our bodies are about 50-70 percent water, and because we can’t readily store or conserve it, we can only live on average three to five days without it.

Adequate water intake is important to help maintain normal body temperature, carry nutrients and oxygen to cells, and get rid of wastes.

We lose water daily through breathing, perspiring, and urinating (a small amount is also lost with bowel movements). If we don’t replace it, dehydration can set in, leading to urinary and kidney problems, seizures, and even death from low blood volume, which compromises the heart and other body systems.

Problems from dehydration start in the early stages of water deprivation—only a 1 percent decrease in body weight due to fluid loss (for example, if you weigh 150 pounds, your weight has dropped to 148.5 pounds.).  At this point, most people start to experience thirst and begin losing the ability to regulate body temperature.  And new research shows that cognitive abilities–problem solving and reaction times–begin to decline at this stage.

Vague discomfort and loss of appetite start at a 2 percent loss.  A 6 percent loss leads to a headache and stumbling. And a 10 percent loss (your weight is now 135 pounds) becomes life-threatening.

Babies and older adults are most sensitive to dehydration. Many factors can cause dehydration: a lack of adequate water intake, extreme diarrhea and vomiting, excessive sweating and fever. For seniors, a decreased ability to conserve water and a reduction in thirst sensitivity intensify the problem. Chronic illnesses and medications also affect thirst. Lack of mobility can cause seniors to limit water intake.

And many health professionals believe thirst is not a good indication of hydration in elderly adults.

Increase Your Fluid Intake

While there are no clear guidelines for water intake requirement, here are two accepted recommendations:

  • Your urine should be light yellow in color, similar to lemonade.
  • Take your weight in pounds and divide by two.  That’s the number of ounces of water per day to drink.  Example, if you weigh 150 lb., water intake = 75 oz.

Here are ways to help you consume enough water:

1) Buy a water bottle to easily track your intake.

2) If you take medications, drink an 8-oz glass of water with each dose.

3) Try different temperatures. Some people love icy cold water; I can down more at room temperature.

4) Add sliced fruit or vegetables to flavor water without adding sugar or calories, and keep it refrigerated. Berries, citrus, and cucumbers make tasty additions.

5) Drink a glass before each meal. Bonus: This practice may help you eat less at mealtimes.

6) Set a timer to remind you to drink throughout the day.

Many older adults complain about getting up at night to urinate. If this is a problem, stop drinking water just after dinnertime; skew your intake heavily to the earlier part of the day.

For additional ideas to stay hydrated, give me a call!

We can discuss some practical tips and discover if any of my programs or classes are a good fit for your friends or family.
If you’d like to schedule that call with me, just CLICK THIS LINK, and let me know in the message that you would like a 1-on-1 call with me right away and I will be in touch to schedule that—oh, and leave me your phone number in there too since email is not as reliable as it used to be! Thanks.

Lisa Teresi Harris is a Registered Dietitian, Certified Personal Trainer, and author of the book Building Your Enduring Fitness.  A certified Geri-Fit Instructor, she helps Boomers and seniors to regain and keep muscle strength, mobility, and energy.
Contact Lisa to inquire about a customized, in-home fitness program for you or a loved one.

Excerpted from my book, Building Your Enduring Fitness


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