PSA: Your Hydration Needs Change Significantly As You Age

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"Just drink more water!" is one of those timeless nuggets of wellness wisdom you've probably heard ad nauseum. The advice merits repetition: Proper hydration is an essential element of everything from gut health to mental well-being—but your H2O needs are far from static. Every stage of life calls for a slightly different relationship with water, so there's plenty to learn when it comes to hydration status by age.

To be clear, there are plenty of reasons to prioritize hydration at every age. "For one, water removes waste," says registered dietitian Mary Kate Keyes, RDN, director of nutrition and wellness for MindFirst Health and Fitness. "We break down food every day, and the waste we make in this process is removed via the kidneys to make urine. When we're not well hydrated, that waste can build up and cause some serious issues, especially to our kidneys."

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Drinking ample water also helps us regulate our body temperature in every season of life and maintains our core body temperature during exercise, which is crucial for optimizing athletic performance. And the list goes on: "Another major function of water is maintaining blood pressure. Our bodies work hard to keep us in a blood pressure zone that's high enough to keep fluids pumping way up to our head, but not so high as to damage our blood vessels," says Keyes. "In order to complete this delicate balance, we have to give our bodies the right ingredients, and in this case, that means water."

Just like your protein consumption and skin-care routine should evolve with each additional year you live, so should your relationship with water. Below, Keyes breaks down how to sip mindfully as you age, as well as why your body may crave different water quantities as life goes on. Raise your water glass, and cheers to knowing more about yourself.

How your hydration needs change as you age

According to Keyes, the amount of water you need to drink changes in tandem with your body composition, which naturally shifts as you age. "For most people as the decades march on, fat mass increases while lean mass, or muscle, decreases. Muscle is 'wetter' than fat, so as we lose this muscle, we lose the ability to hold on to all that water," she says.

Lower hydration levels can also be linked to taking certain medications called diuretic drugs (which can increase urination, and therefore dehydration) that may become part of your routine as you get older. One such example is Chlorthalidone, which is used to treat hypertension.

Plus, our ability to discern whether we're thirsty or not seems to diminish over time. "The tricky thing is that dehydration can mask itself as fatigue and confusion," says Keyes. You may also learn that you're dehydrated by noticing that your urine is infrequent or dark in color or if you're feeling dizzy.

All of this means that establishing a hydration baseline is crucial; then, you can learn to pay attention to your body's cues as well.

"The eight, eight-ounce glasses of water a day recommendation is a good one for most," says Keyes. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends about 15.5 cups (or 3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. However, this includes beverages like coffee and tea, as well as hydrating fruits (like watermelon).

That said, your water needs are unique to Y-O-U. "Genetics, medications, physical activity, altitude, and climate can influence our needs for water," says Keyes. "The best recommendation is to drink enough fluid so that your urine is light yellow: Think of the color of straw, not too dark and certainly not clear."

Below, Keyes offers her five best tips for staying hydrated that you can consider your toolbox for staying hydrated no matter how many birthday candles are on your cake. And remember: If you're having trouble discerning if you're well-hydrated or not, it's worth a check-in with your primary care physician.

5 tips for staying hydrated, no matter your age

1. Stave off water boredom

If drinking plain old water is boring to you (fair), Keyes recommends getting creative by eating fruit popsicles or drinking water infused with your favorite fruits. For example, you can infuse your glass with lemon and cucumber or pour the water at the bottom of the watermelon bowl into a jug of water and enjoy a slightly-sweetened beverage.

2. Watch how much alcohol you're drinking

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but because alcohol is a diuretic, it is extremely dehydrating to your body. So if you're having trouble drinking enough water, try skipping that glass of wine or beer and see if you start to feel better in time.

3. Make sure your water is at a temperature you enjoy

"Tinker with the temperature: Some [people] may like their water with ice cubes only, but try room temperature or even slightly warmer temps. If you feel you really need to chug, warmer can help," says Keyes. If your water is giving you a brain freeze, you're not likely to keep sipping it, right?

4. Practice consistent hydration, so you never get too dehydrated

This one may seem like a "no, duh"—but it's really important. "Don't wait until you're super thirsty [to drink water]," says Keyes. "As we age, the signals that tell our brain and tongue we're thirsty don't work as well, so relying on thirst may lead to dehydration." Instead, try setting a timer or making a point of taking a sip every 20 minutes.

5. Get on the "emotional support water bottle" trend

If you're not all in on the emotional support water bottle trend yet, Keyes is a big advocate for buying a bottle and taking it with you everywhere. Whether you're simply working from home or heading out for a day with friends, take that water bottle with you—and make a point of refilling it throughout the day.

Also, be sure to keep plenty of hydrating foods—like those outlines in the video below—in your meal rotation: 

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