Resilience for Women: Why Hydration Should Not Be Ignored

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"I think, therefore I drink…water"

A little play on René Descartes which I couldn’t resist.

"Drinking plenty of fresh water is the most undervalued source of physical energy and brain health," according to one of my former neuropsychology professors.

Interestingly, thirst is an inadequate indicator of need. By the time we feel thirsty, we may be long since dehydrated. Research tells us that drinking water at regular intervals throughout the day supports our performance in several ways:

It improves physical performance: If our muscles are dehydrated by as little as 3 percent, they lose 10 percent of their strength and 8 percent of their speed.

Reduces risk of disease: Lower daily intake of water has been correlated with increased risk of certain cancers such as bladder and colorectal cancer and also with fatal coronary heart disease.

Improves your mood: One study found that when people who regularly had a low daily intake of water increased their intake to 2.5 litres per day, the participants experienced significantly less confusion, bewilderment, fatigue, and sleepiness. On the other hand, the people who regularly drank 2 to 4 litres of water per day who were then restricted to 1 litre per day experienced negative effects on mood, including decreased contentedness, calmness, and positive emotions.

Boosts your brain's power: Emerging evidence from the fields of nutritional science and neuroscience indicate that cognitive abilities are positively influenced by water consumption. For example, one study found that water consumption at school increased the short-term memory function and verbal task performance of children.

Our brain's activity consumes water. Our neurons function electrically and water is what helps to conduct that electricity across the dendrites, neuron to neuron. Thus, when our neurons are firing they consume water. Our cognition worsens when we are under-hydrated because we are not able to conduct neural messages across the dendrites (I know, somewhat scientific speak, but you get the point).

The bottom line: we need to keep our synapses lubed up with water.

How much hydration is enough?

There are varying and sometimes conflicting suggestions of what constitutes adequate water intake.

  • European Food Safety Authority: Adequate intake is 2 litres per day for women and 2.5 litres per day for men.

  • Institute of Medicine: Adequate intake is 2.7 litres per day for women and 3.7 litres per day for men.

  • However, other reviews of the research tell us that the ‘eight cups of water per day' recommendations aren’t based on solid research.

Regardless, the recommended daily intakes are averages and do not take into account age, activity levels and other variables that impact optimal amounts of hydration on any given day.

My best advice is to just pay attention to your water consumption and make sure you are drinking water throughout the day…and pay attention to how you feel. The more you engage in higher cognitive functions (meetings, creativity, planning) and physical activities, the more water you may need to consume to support optimal cognitive and physical energy.

Let information, awareness and moderation be your guides.