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Drinking Water: Myths and Facts

By Krista Elliott

From the time we were young, the common wisdom was that eight glasses of water a day were necessary for optimal health. Many of us follow that prescription, while some others take a different route. We all know that person who is constantly toting (and chugging from) their enormous water bottle, as well as their friend who never drinks a drop of water, living solely off black coffee. 

When it comes to water, how much do we really need? Can you have too much of a good thing? And if you don't like water, what are your options? 

How Much Water do You Need?

First of all, it's important to note why we need to drink water. "Hydration is important because the body is comprised mostly of water, and the proper balance between water and electrolytes in our bodies really determines how most of our systems function, including nerves and muscles," says Larry Kenney, PhD, a professor of physiology and kinesiology at Penn State.

As it turns out, though, the eight-glasses-a-day recommendation isn't based on any scientific evidence. And it makes sense, when you think about it: Your water needs would depend on your size, age, and activity level, so one size doesn't fit all. Instead, the medical recommendation is to drink enough water that you need to use the bathroom about every 2-4 hours, and your urine is light in color. Infrequent urination and darker urine are classic signs of dehydration. 

Can You Drink Too Much Water? 

It's possible, but rare. Drinking way too much water can cause a condition called hyponatremia, which can result in dangerously low levels of sodium in the blood. It has happened on occasion to marathon runners who drink vast volumes of water in a short time, but the average person has very little risk of having this happen. 

I Hate Water. What are my Options?

Coffee lovers, rejoice! As it turns out, the idea that coffee dehydrates you is just a myth. Yes, it has diuretic properties, but you'll still gain much more water than you'll lose. Tea, juice, and milk also count toward your water intake, as do watery foods like soup, lettuce and melon. So if you're just not a fan of the taste of water, but you're ingesting enough watery food and drinks that your urine is pale and frequent, then you don't need to feel bad about your dislike for H2O. 

Keeping your body hydrated is an important part of maintaining your overall health and well-being, and there are plenty of options to help you do just that. So, drink up! 

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