“If you don’t need to pee, you need an IV!”
These are words I recall my drill Sergeant shouting as I marched with my team, carrying my M16 rifle, gas mask, backpack, and canteen through the hot hills of Germany.
The time was just before the millennium, and I was training with the Army for an intensive military competition.
It’s often said you are only as strong as your weakest link. In that spirit, it had been pounded into me during training about the many military battles have been lost or compromised due to poor hydration of the soldiers involved.
However, it’s not just soldiers who need to pay attention to this – YOU need to pay attention to hydration as well!
Water is the Key to Life
First, consider that about half our body weight is water. Normally water makes up about 70% of our muscle and body mass.
Keeping fluid and electrolyte concentrations at proper levels is tremendously important to everyone’s health and vitality.
While it’s possible to become sick or even die from too much water intake (a rare condition called water intoxication), the opposite extreme of dehydration (excessively losing more body fluid than you take in) is a much more common problem both for the old and young.
Dehydration is the most common fluid and electrolyte problem in the elderly. 
Electrolytes are substances (i.e. sodium, calcium, potassium) which become ions in solution and are natural electrical conductors within our body. They are needed for our brains, nervous system, and muscles to operate properly
Nature’s Air Conditioner
Our body naturally excretes fluids and electrolytes onto the surface of our skin when we sweat to cool us down. It’s our body’s built-in air conditioner to regulate and lower our body temperature when we get too warm, during exercise or hot weather.
Without this mechanism properly working in a balanced way (input/output homeostasis), a lack of hydration can cause our body to decline in its ability to cool itself and to function, ultimately leading to heat fatigue, possibly a heat stroke, or even death.
This problem is also related to diseases. Dehydration has been linked to chronic infections, especially urinary tract infections. Additionally, dehydration is often related to strokes and kidney or liver problems.
Our kidneys and liver need adequate water intake to function properly. Dehydration can reduce their ability to metabolize and to eliminate the by-products of medications, leading to toxic drug concentrations in our blood.
Lack of water intake can also lead to low blood pressure, dizziness and muscle weakness, increasing the risk of falling.
Signs & Symptoms
Some common signs and symptoms of dehydration include: headaches, confusion, muscle cramps, dark (concentrated) yellow urine, dry tongue, dry skin, dry eyes, sunken eyes, dizziness, fainting, excessive thirst, rapid heartbeats and rapid breathing.
You need to take active measures every day to prevent dehydration.
It’s important to understand that beverages like coffee (and many soft drinks, especially those with caffeine) are diuretics.
Diuretics are substances which promote more urine production and more excretion of water from the body.
When consumed, these substances ultimately cause you to urinate out more fluid than you take in, if there is not enough water being ingested from other sources (i.e. water, lemonade, Kool aid, foods containing water etc.) to make up for the loss.
Often elderly are at highest risk of becoming dehydrated due to confusion (i.e. dementia), an altered (diminished) sensation of thirst, and other age-related physiology changes – as well as a total body water decrease in the body associated with aging.
Risk factors increase with exposure to hot environmental conditions, as well as during and after experiencing sickness involving diarrhea, vomiting, or excessive sweating (i.e. due to fevers).
Another high-risk population are infants as they are not able to communicate when they are thirsty and cannot get drinks by themselves.
Individuals with mental illness as well can also be at higher risk of dehydration as their ability to think rationally can be compromised, with dehydration itself reducing the ability to think clearly.
How to Stay Hydrated
Be strategic. One strategy to help increase fluid intake is to keep water in the refrigerator (and/or close to you) in measurable containers with the goal of drinking the entire container throughout the day, and then re-filling the empty container at the beginning of each day.
Keep an eye on your urine. Remember a dark(er) yellow color to your urine means that your urine is becoming more concentrated due to a lack of adequate water. If your urine is a darker yellow than usual, increase your water consumption immediately.
Good health depends in large part on maintaining your body in a state of adequate hydration. It matters for all of us – not just for athletes, workers out in the hot sun, or soldiers out in the field.
The truth is, most people are under-hydrated. For properly hydrating, there is no substitute to drinking several glasses a day of good, clean plain old water. Be sure you are drinking enough of it, each and every day!
Be proactive and help make maintaining proper hydration a priority, and a good healthy habit for you and your family.
Consider this as you exercise, care for others, and as you enjoy your summer activities!