Even during the summer months, we’re lucky to get a few days of sunshine or the occasional heatwave in the UK. For many, it’s a welcome change, especially compared to the miserable, dull skies we’re used to. But heat can be hard on the body.
Never have we been more familiar with this than during the recent heatwave in July, which saw record-breaking temperatures as high as 40.3℃ and the Met Office issuing its first ever Red warning for extreme heat.
More concerningly though, is the estimated one thousand people who may have died from heat complications.
While the 40-plus-degree conditions are thankfully behind us, staying hydrated is important all year round, even in the colder months.
Why staying hydrated is important
The body needs plenty of water to carry out a lot of functions. You need water to lubricate your joints and eyes, stave off infection, get rid of waste and keep your organs functioning properly.
Aside from the internal benefits of staying hydrated, drinking water also keeps your skin healthy and improves your sleep and mood.
Our bodies are designed to regulate our body temperature, which means that when it’s too hot, we sweat. This helps us keep cool and maintain a stable temperature, but it also means we lose water.
To ensure the body can continue to function effectively, we need to replace the additional water we lose.
But what’s the best way to stay hydrated? Here are our six easy tips.
Top tips for staying hydrated
Drink plenty of water…
It might sound too simple, but drinking more water is one of the easiest and most effective ways to replace water lost through sweat.
Drinking plain water is best, but if you find it a bit bland, you can spruce it up by adding a slice of lemon, lime, or even some mint leaves for a refreshing twist. Alternatively, you can drink still or sparkling flavoured water.
Avoid drinks with a high sugar content — the occasional glass of squash is fine, but make sure it doesn’t contain any added sugar.
…But not too much
Drinking water is important for staying hydrated but is there such a thing as too much?
Drinking too much water can actually be dangerous, as it can dilute the sodium levels in the blood and make you sick.
The best way to avoid drinking too much water is to be mindful. If you notice you haven’t had a drink for a few hours, don’t make up for it by running to the kitchen, standing by the sink and guzzling several glasses in a row. Instead, just take a few sips to quench your thirst.
If you regularly forget to drink water, you could try to track how much water you drink during the day, either by noting it down on paper or using a habit tracker app on your phone. Then, you can consciously make an effort to drink more during the day, such as by setting reminders to have a small drink every hour or using a marked water bottle that keeps you on track.
Cut down on caffeine and alcohol
Is there anything better than waking up and enjoying a cup of coffee or sitting in the shade with a cool beer or glass of wine after a long day?
For many, the answer’s a hard no, but drinking caffeine and alcohol makes you lose water.
This is because alcoholic and caffeinated drinks are diuretics; they make you need the loo more often. Losing too much water will dehydrate you, so while a cup of tea might be your go-to, it could make you feel more thirsty.
If going without caffeine isn’t an option, try to reduce how much you drink. That doesn’t mean you have to trade your mid-morning coffee for a glass of water, but you might want to try decaf or choose a herbal tea instead.
Also, be wary of opting for energy drinks. These contain high amounts of caffeine, so whilst they might get you through the afternoon slump, they won’t rehydrate you as much as you might think, and they’re usually high in sugar too.
For a healthier substitute to alcoholic drinks, consider an alcohol-free or low-alcohol alternative. Keep a glass of water on hand, which you can regularly sip to help you stay hydrated.
Maintain your electrolyte levels
Exercise is crucial for staying fit and healthy, though remember that you’ll need to rehydrate after any exercise session.
Whether going out for a walk or doing a more intense daily workout, you should immediately stop if you feel tired or dizzy or have a headache.
If you do get dehydrated, drinking water is never a bad thing, but sports drinks — which contain electrolytes — are more effective.
Exercising makes you lose electrolytes, which are minerals in your body that regulate heart rate, muscle contraction and more. When your electrolyte levels get too low, you’re more likely to get muscle cramps, feel weak and dizzy, have an irregular heartbeat and potentially suffer a sports injury.
Having a sports drink before, during, or after your workout will help take the stress off your muscles and keep you hydrated.
Watch what you eat
Certain fruits and vegetables are not only refreshing and enjoyable, but they can also help you stay hydrated.
Fruits and vegetables high in water include cucumber, tomatoes, apples, celery, watermelon and peaches. As a bonus, many of these also contain vitamins and minerals that help keep your skin looking young and healthy, improve digestion and boost cognition.
Fruit and veg make perfect snacks, but you can also add more to your diet by incorporating them into meals or making delicious smoothies.
Know the signs of heat exhaustion
Heat exhaustion isn’t dangerous on its own, but it can quickly turn into something more serious, so you should know the signs.
Heat exhaustion often causes tiredness, headaches, cramps and sickness. You might also feel dizzy and sweaty or have a fast pulse.
If you have any of these symptoms, you need to cool down quickly.
Make sure you’re lying in a cool place — away from the sun — and raise your feet slightly. Drinking plenty of water is the best way to rehydrate yourself, but you can also bring your temperature down by using an ice pack on your neck and spraying your body with cold water.
If you can’t cool your body down when you have heat exhaustion, it can become heatstroke, which is far more serious. Heatstroke can lead to trouble breathing (your breath may be short and fast) and loss of consciousness.
If you notice any signs of heatstroke or still feel unwell 30 minutes after resting and drinking water, you should call 999 or 111.
If you’re feeling unwell, you can walk into our Urgent Care Clinic. We’re open seven days a week and offer almost-instant access to our experienced doctors. Get in touch with our urgent care team by calling 020 7432 8300 or emailing [email protected]. For directions to the clinic, have a look here.