by Naomi Mead

A recent UK study showed that a staggering 89% of the population is not drinking enough water to maintain healthy hydration levels. In fact, 13% of women, and 20% of men admitted that they drink no water at all. Age is significant, with a staggering quarter (25%) of over 55 year olds stating that they drink no water at all during the day.

As we age, our likelihood of becoming dehydrated starts to increase. There are several factors that play a part in this; the percentage of our body weight made up of water decreases as we age, so too does our sensation of thirst. In addition, our kidneys do not function as well, and our renal ability to concentrate urine decreases.

So how can we tell whether or not we are drinking enough water, and what are the consequences of not getting our quota? Here are 6 signs to tell you that you may need to up your intake…

1. You’re thirsty

This may sound very obvious, but the point is that our thirst sensation doesn’t actually kick in until we’re around 1- 2% dehydrated, and by this time it may already be having a negative impact on how the body and mind functions. As we age, our thirst sensations also start to diminish, and consequentially we may not register thirst until having reached a significant level of dehydration. Don’t wait until you are feeling thirsty before having a glass of water. Instead, focus on sipping water throughout the day, little and often, so you’re not allowing your body to get to the point where you absolutely need a drink. Confusing the symptoms of thirst for hunger is another commonly made mistake, so if it hasn’t been long since you last ate something; try a glass of water first!

2. You’re always feeling tired & low in energy

It may not be the first thing you think of when you’re feeling shattered, but even mild dehydration can have a significant impact on mood, energy levels and mental performance. Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that mild dehydration in study participants led to alterations in mood, headaches, fatigue and difficulty concentrating. Interestingly, these findings, published in The Journal of Nutrition, were found to be more pronounced in women than in men.

3. Exercise feels like a real effort

If you embark on exercise without being well hydrated, you’re likely to have less endurance, more fatigue and very low motivation, according to studies. Muscle soreness, and longer recovery times, can also occur as a result of not drinking enough water before and during exercise- not just afterwards!

4. Your digestion is sluggish

Water is essential for keeping everything flowing through the gastrointestinal tract. When you don’t get enough fluid, the body will compensate by pulling water from stools to maintain hydration, and this can cause hard stools that are difficult to pass, and resulting constipation. Water is also required to produce the digestive juices that break down our food. Without these, a variety of digestive problems can result including excess gas, bloating, discomfort and nausea.

5. You suffer from water retention

If you suffer from water retention, you may believe that drinking more water will make your condition worse, when conversely the opposite is actually true. Water is vital in the body for the proper functioning of all our body systems including our cardiovascular, nervous and digestive systems. If fluid intake is insufficient, the body will compensate by holding onto water in its cells, resulting in the bloating and discomfort associated with water retention.

6. Your urine is dark yellow (and a bit smelly)

The colour of your wee is actually the best indicator of your hydration levels. It should be pale, almost straw-coloured. Any darker and it’s a sign that you are dehydrated. To rehydrate properly, don’t be tempted just to knock back a large pint of water and then forget about it. Instead sip water regularly over the course of the day. Try not to fixate on the “2 litres a day” figure, as this takes no account of individuality or activity levels. Instead, use your own body as a guide.

If you find it difficult to drink enough water, here are a few tips to upping your hydration levels:

  • Keep a bottle of water with you, even if you’re just at home. If it’s in your line of vision, you are less likely to forget to have a drink. You could even set a few alerts on your phone throughout the day to remind yourself!
  • Switching your tea or coffee for herbal teas is a great way to up your fluid intake, especially during the colder months. Peppermint, fennel and ginger are all good options, but most importantly choose one you enjoy and will want to drink more of.
  • Eat your water by upping your fruit and vegetable intake. Cucumber, lettuce, celery, radishes, tomatoes, peppers, spinach and watermelon are all at least 90% water, so pack your diet with these juicy foods.
  • Infuse your water with fresh fruits and herbs, which can add flavour to your water, and give you an added boost of vitamins, antioxidants and phytonutrients at the same time. Fresh lemon & ginger, or strawberry and basil, are just a couple of the delicious combinations you can try.