Dehydration is a health concern that's commonly overlooked in colder months, but it's important to get all the fluids you need 365 days a year. Why? Your body is about 60 percent water, and it needs to constantly be refilled to keep functioning. Shortchange your body's liquid needs long enough and you run the risk of your blood pressure dropping too low, having a faster than normal heart rate, or developing kidney stones. Your mental powers are impacted, too. "Your decision-making skills are worse when you're dehydrated, and your emotional state may also be affected," says Yuri Hosokawa, Ph.D., A.T.C., the vice president of education at the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut in Storrs.
Here's the challenge: there are several factors that make it harder to keep sipping though the winter than in the summertime. First, your thirst impulse is reduced when you're exposed to cold. "That sensation is one of your primary cues to know when to rehydrate, so you drink less in the cold," says Hosokawa.
Another cue that disappears in the winter is sweat. You still sweat in the cold, but any sweat you produce evaporates more quickly, which means you may not feel the wetness on your skin.
Although not related to winter, a third factor that makes staying hydrated tough is age. Researchers aren't exactly sure why, but after age 50 your sense of thirst begins to fade. Plus, many medications prescribed for blood pressure and heart disease can bring on dehydration.
Following the familiar rule of eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day is a start, but it's not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Try these other tips to ensure that you stay hydrated all winter.
Carry water with you. Studies have found that people who carry water bottles are more likely to be well-hydrated than those who don't. And the colder the water temperature, the better. Research suggests that people enjoy water more when it's cold versus lukewarm, no matter the season.
Drink up when you exercise. For every 20 minutes you exercise, you should sip between 3 and 8 ounces of water. Working out for more than an hour? Switch over to a sports drink to replace electrolytes. And if you're going to be skiing or walking in higher altitudes, you'll need to up your fluid intake.
Sip soup. Don't forget that you get some water from your diet. Broth-based soups, fruits, and vegetables all count. Also, don't give up coffee just because you think it will dehydrate you. "Having two or three cups a day isn't enough to affect hydration," says Hosokawa.