How Much Water is Too Much?

posted Jun 2, 2018, 4:00 PM by Walk Strong Calgary   [ updated Jun 4, 2018, 5:35 AM ]
Water... One of the most basic elements necessary for our very survival. Every cell in your body requires water in order to function properly and it can be found both within the cells themselves, and surrounding them. Water acts as our body's cooling system, just one of the many important functions of this luscious liquid. 

According to the Mayo Clinic(1), our body weight is composed of approximately 60% water, and as you know, we are continually losing water throughout the day through our normal bodily functions such as sweating, waste removal, vomiting, and even breathing. There is no hard and fast rule about how much water you actually need to ingest daily - it will actually vary by individual.  Factors such as body size, diet, activity level, health status and even climate can all play a role in your individual hydration requirements. While you can certainly look to alternative sources for water (fruits and veggies, teas & other beverages), if you are specifically drinking to hydrate the body, your best bet is good ol' H20 straight up. It's the original zero-calorie drink and the perfect choice if you're trying to lose weight and/or keep it off. 

Is it possible to drink too much water? That's a great question, and the answer is yes! Overhydrating is a condition called hyponatremia, but not to worry, you're only likely to be in danger of this if you are drinking extreme amounts in a short period of time. In fact, there have been deaths attributed to 'water intoxication,' such as a 28-year old mother of three who participated in a water-drinking contest in 2007(2). In such an extreme case, inundating your body with an unusually high volume of H20 in a short window of time can cause your blood sodium concentration to drop below 135 millimoles per litre (normal levels range from 135 - 145). Imagine stirring half a tsp of salt into a tall glass of water and tasting it. You'd no doubt taste the salt. Now take a 10-gallon pail of water and add half a tsp of salt. You'll likely not notice a difference at all in the taste. Trouble is, your body needs that sodium, and diluting it in such an extreme way can certainly be very dangerous, taxing the kidneys - if the kidneys aren't given enough time to flush the additional water out, it's got to go somewhere... first to the blood, which becomes waterlogged, and then to the cells, causing them to expand and swell like tiny little balloons. While most cells in the body do have some room to enlarge, when it comes to the brain cells, there is precious little room (if any) for expansion(3).
Generally speaking, unless you are an elite athlete participating in arduous workouts or endurance events (wherein the athlete may consume copious amounts of water in a short time in an attempt to stay hydrated), you are in very little danger of experiencing hyponatremia. The Mayo Clinic's recommendation to ensure you are safely hydrated is to drink a glass of water with each meal, one between each meal, drink water before, during and after exercise, and when you experience hunger (which can often be confused with thirst)(1)

Nancy Ehle is Founder & CEO of Witness 4 Fitness in Calgary, Alberta Canada. She holds several certifications in the fitness industry, including Group Fitness Instructor, Health Coach and Master Walk 15® Instructor through organizations such as the American Council on Exercise and Walk at Home®.  Walk Strong Calgary is a division of Witness 4 Fitness, focusing on low-impact group exercise programs suitable for all ages and fitness levels. 
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