Hydration and Mental Health: How Are They Related?

What Is Mental Health?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the umbrella term "mental health" encompasses emotional, psychological and social well-being. It factors into how a person thinks, feels, acts, handles stress and interacts with others. A variety of factors, including life experiences and lifestyle, can affect mental health. As a result, it can fluctuate over time.

Mental health is an essential element of overall health. For example, depression and chronic stress can lead to behaviors (e.g., sedentary activity, smoking or overeating) that may increase the risk of developing health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Likewise, chronic illness can heighten the likelihood of depression.

Are Hydration and Mental Health Linked?

Research has linked hydration status with several mental conditions and functions, such as depression, anxiety, mental acuity (also known as mental "sharpness"), memory and attention. For instance, a study of more than 3,000 Iranian adults observed the association between drinking water and depression. Researchers found that men and women who drank the least amount of water (less than two glasses per day) were at significantly higher risk for depression than those who drank five glasses or more per day. In addition, those with the greatest water intake had lower incidences of depression.

Another study involving U.S. children ages 9 to 11 looked at the effects of drinking low, high or ad libitum (as desired) amounts of water on mental flexibility, or the ability to shift attention. Those who drank high amounts of water (around 10.5 cups per day) had greater mental flexibility. In addition, researchers found that the group instructed to drink ad libitum had similar results to those who drank low amounts of water (around two cups per day), suggesting that children habitually underhydrate.

Lastly, in a small study of college-aged males in China, participants were instructed to abstain from drinking water for 36 hours followed by a rehydration period. The study found that dehydration had negative effects on energy, self-esteem, short-term memory and attention. After rehydration with water, the participants reported improvements in mood, short-term memory, attention and reaction time.

This area of research is still relatively new. The number of studies is limited, but the results suggest that there's an association between hydration status and mental health, including mood and cognitive performance.

Tips to Stay Hydrated

The amount of water you should drink each day can vary widely depending on your activity level, exposure to heat and humidity, sex and body size. The bottom line is to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. However, many people find it challenging to remember to hydrate consistently.

To help you take in enough water throughout the day, here are some tips from Jennifer Williams, MPH, a nutrition scientist at Abbott specializing in hydration:

  • Consider pairing your meals with water rather than (or in addition to) soda, juice or coffee.
  • Drink often throughout the day, aiming to take in fluids for every hour that you're awake.
  • Keep a reusable water bottle handy, and do your best to replenish it as needed.
  • Enhance your water with flavors, such as a squeeze of citrus or fresh mint, to encourage intake.
  • Eat plenty of water-rich fruits and vegetables, such as watermelon, zucchini, grapes, celery and spinach. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 20% of your daily water intake should come from food.

There are several key benefits of drinking water for mental health — not to mention physical health. Making sure you get plenty of fluids every day is one of the best gifts that you can give yourself to support overall health and well-being.

Article originally published March 23, 2023.

Coats, Hats and...Hydration? How to Stay Hydrated in Cold Climates

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A person wearing a coat, hat and backpack hikes in snowy mountains.


Summer is the season that usually gets people thinking about how to stay hydrated. Hot weather makes you sweat, which increases the need for fluids, and you may feel thirstier in general. But what about winter?

Hydration in cold weather can be easy to overlook, but the truth is that cold temperatures can also increase the body's demand for fluids. In this article, you'll learn about how cold weather can increase your potential for dehydration, the signs and symptoms of dehydration and tips for staying hydrated all year long.

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Healthy Foods to Eat Every Day: 365 Days of Nutrition

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A person holds out a bowl filled with vegetables and legumes.


Healthy Foods to Eat Every Day: 365 Days of Nutrition


Key Takeaways

• It's important to eat a well-rounded diet that consists of a variety of nutrient-dense foods.
• Small, incremental changes can make a big difference to your health over time.
• Turning your short-term goals into a long-term lifestyle takes time.

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