Healthy Body

‘I’m a Cardiologist, and This Is the Connection Between Drinking Enough Water and Heart Health’

Dominique Michelle Astorino

Photo: Getty Images / Kentaroo Tryman
You're probably aware that adequate hydration is essential for our overall health. Our bodies are made up of about 60 percent water, and staying hydrated helps you breathe, move, digest, and stay alive. But even with the knowledge that water is vital and widespread love of fancy water bottles, so many of us don't get enough water each day. Even worse, chronic hydration is fairly common, especially among older Americans, and new research suggests a link between hydration and heart health.

Before we launch into how hydrating might impact overall heart health, it's important to define accurate hydration. If you were raised with the notion that you need to guzzle eight ounces of water each day, you might be happy to learn that hydration is a bit more nuanced. For starters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn't actually have any "plain water" daily recommendations—this means that there isn't a specific amount of water that you're meant to pour into a glass and guzzle each day. There are, however, daily fluid intake recommendations based on all of the foods and beverages you consume. What's more? These recommendations aren't universal. They depend on your age, gender, activity level, and environment, according to the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM).

With this in mind, the NASM suggests men aim for 16 cups a day while women should try and get in about 12 cups. Before you start to worry, remember your hydration is meant to come from everything you ingest during the day. In fact, the NASM says about 20 percent of your intake will come from foods (like fruits and veggies), and the other 80 percent will come from beverages (yes, your caffeine fix counts).

So, whether you're getting your water from melons or a can of La Croix, one thing is certain: “Consuming a healthy amount of water is essential for life,” says board-certified cardiologist Jennifer Haythe, MD, associate professor of medicine and co-director of Columbia University Women's Heart Center. But she's quick to add that “many individuals do not meet these recommendations consistently throughout their lives.”

It's well-documented that remaining well-hydrated is essential to our overall well-being. But dehydration can cause issues including dizziness, brain fog, lethargy, heatstroke, kidney issues, and even constipation, the CDC explains. As if that's not serious enough, recent data links chronic dehydration with heart failure. Dr. Haythe says that recently, researchers presented at the European Society of Cardiology and looked at sodium levels of 15,792 people who are middle-aged. They used sodium as a marker or 'hydration habits' and found an association between those people with higher sodium levels (or not enough hydration) and heart failure 25 years later, she explains. This suggests that maybe drinking a bit more water might have some preventative benefits.

But, before you increase your water intake, Dr. Haythe provides some major caveats. “This was not a randomized, prospective, or controlled study, and so cause cannot be established," she says. "Only an association can be noted.” In other words, while dehydration is associated with heart failure, we don’t yet know if it’s a direct cause. Additionally, Dr. Haythe warns anyone with an existing heart condition should check in with their physician before adjusting their water intake.“It is very important to note that once patients develop heart failure, fluid intake must be carefully regulated with a physician, and this [information] should not prompt patients with existing heart conditions to drink more water,” she says.

Ultimately, this emerging research supports what many of us already know: staying hydrated is good for your health. And, before you start setting 'water' alarms and buying new colorful canteens, remember that hydration can come from eating, too. Consider loading up on watermelon, cucumbers, celery, and other hydrating foods.

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