How Does Cold Weather Affect Hydration?
Warm air often feels humid or muggy because it contains lots of moisture. Cold air, however, is usually dry air. The air can get even drier when the wind is blowing or when it's heated by an HVAC system. When you breathe in dry winter air, the soft tissues in your nasal passages, throat and lungs lose moisture, increasing the need for fluids to help keep those tissues hydrated.
Most people also wear layers of clothing in winter to stay warm. Sometimes being bundled up causes the body to overheat, which leads to perspiration. This lost moisture needs to be replenished.
Finally, your sense of thirst may not be triggered as easily during winter as it is during summer, when you're likely to be more active.
Body Functions That Depend on Hydration Status
It's possible to live for several weeks without food, but only a few days without water. The average adult's body consists of about 60% water, and it's essential for almost every bodily function. We need water to regulate body temperature and deliver nutrients to all cells in the body through the bloodstream. Water is also a core component of the fluid that protects the brain and spine, and it allows the kidneys to filter waste from the blood and excrete it in the form of urine. Hydration is also important to keeping the digestive system running smoothly. Simply put, without water, there is no life.
How Much Water Do You Need?
The National Academy of Sciences recommends about 13 cups of fluid per day for men and 9 cups for women, with 1 cup equating to 8 fluid ounces. Of course, an individual's need for water can vary widely depending on the climate they live in, as well as how active they are. Hydration needs increase with extreme heat and high activity.
Signs of Dehydration
With poor fluid intake or illness that includes vomiting or diarrhea, signs of dehydration can occur in as little as 12 to 24 hours. The earliest signs of dehydration in adults may include fatigue, loss of appetite and dizziness. If dehydration progresses, an adult may feel nausea, headache or muscle cramping. Confusion and rapid heartbeat (as the body works to keep blood pressure up despite low blood volume) are signs of more serious dehydration that likely need to be treated in an emergency room.
The easiest way to assess hydration status at home is to check the color of your urine. When you're well hydrated, your urine will be clear to pale yellow (unless you're taking a medication or vitamin supplement that changes the color of your urine). Dark yellow or amber-tinged urine with a strong odor is a sure sign of dehydration, as is the lack of any urine output.
Tips for Hydration in Cold Weather
While some water comes from the foods we consume each day, about 80% of the water our bodies need will come from beverages. To stay hydrated, aim to drink between 1/2 and 1 cup of fluid for each hour you're awake.
Some people find reusable water bottles helpful for increasing fluid intake. Plain water is great, but if you're struggling to keep up with your hydration needs with water alone, there are plenty of other ways to get the fluids you need. Here are some beverage ideas to help you keep hydration top of mind in cold weather:
- Hot tea
- Water flavored with lemon, lime or other fruit slices (sometimes called "spa water")
- Electrolyte-containing beverages, especially if you need to replace fluids lost via sweating or vomiting/diarrhea
- Broth-based soups and stews
- Spritzers made from sparkling water and a splash of fruit juice
No matter what your favorite beverage might be, remember to take in plenty of fluids and stay hydrated in both summer and winter. Your hydration status is essential for almost every bodily function, and your health depends on adequate fluid intake in all seasons.