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Many cries for water

How do you know how much water to drink?

Yesterday was a scorchingly hot day in Normandy - about 31 degrees in the shade, which made it the hottest May day since 1953, according to Meteo France.

A good day, then, to decide to do a 7km hike? Well, maybe not. I'd planned a riverside walk, through woods, in the shade, but a field of cows and my dog wasn't good combination, which meant a detour down some very hot, dusty, unshaded roads in full and blinding sunlight in order to get back to the river. 

Nevertheless, we ended the day feeling fine and the reason was that we had enough water. A litre (with a little salt) on each of us, and another two in the car.

How much water do you need?

The worse advice I was ever given, about 15 years ago, was to only drink when I was thirsty. I've got used to simply ignoring thirst - I simply don't recognise it when it occurs. If I only drank when I was thirsty, I'd never drink at all.

And telling someone 'eight glasses a day' isn't much help either. Assuming that's an 8oz glass, that's 64oz of water a day. But not all people, whatever their weight or lifestyle or location, need this exact same amount of water. 

Better methods are to drink until your urine runs clear, or to calculate your needs by body weight then amend for lifestyle and diet. If you're not active, you need half an ounce per pound of body weight, and if you're active you need more, which means that at my current weight, 133 pounds, and only moderately active, I would need 8.3 glasses of water per day. That equals 1.8 litres.

Unfortunately, I know from bitter experience that if I drank this little water, I could kiss goodbye to a bowel movement for EVER. The causes are that I like a glass of wine with meals, I have coffee for breakfast, I walk a brisk 3 miles every morning and I follow a high-fibre diet. All of these things mean I need more water.

You too may need more water if you do ANY of the following:

* Live in a hot climate. 

* Eat high-fibre foods such as wholewheat.

* Eat dried foods such as dates and raisins.

* Eat a lot of cheese. 

* Eat a lot of starchy foods such as root vegetables.

* Take daily exercise that makes you sweat. 

* Drink alcohol or caffeine. 

* Take saunas or steam baths (this one is never listed, but they make you sweat - you need to replace this lost water). 

As you can see, the average Western lifestyle might lead to you needing more water than you might realise.

Signs you may be dehydrated are:

* Headache. At the first sign of a headache, try a good glass of water rather than a painkiller. 

* Heartburn. 

* Unspecfic pain such as low back pain. 

* Constipation. 

If you have any of these symptoms, start first by modestly increasing your water intake by half a litre a day. Don't overdo it, as your kidneys need time to adjust to the extra work they'll have to do. The main reason people have become ill from too much water is drinking too much at one go.

What if you hate drinking water?

On the bright side, 'water' can be found in forms other than 'water' as such. Fresh fruits and vegetables are generally pretty high in water, especially above-ground veg such as salads, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, courgettes and aubergines. Herbal teas can count towards your water intake because they don't contain caffeine, and so can modest amounts of fruit juice (that word was 'modest'). But don't count drinks with caffeine, or fizzy drinks (sodas). In fact, if you can, cut sodas out of your life - your body will thank you for it.

Obviously, 'wet' meals such as soups and stews have a lot of water in too. But if you follow a diet of white-bread cheese sarnies and chips with a beer, watch out...

How to work it out

It took me some time to work out a method of water consumption that worked for me, but here it is.

* I calculated my needs by body weight = 1.8 litres. 

* I added up the things in my lifestyle that can cause dehydration and there were three major ones: exercise; high-fibre diet; alcohol/caffeine intake. 

* For each factor, I added back in half a litre of water. 

Total = 3.3 litres of water. This is about what I drink a day 'as water', and it seems to work for me. Others may find they need more or less. But yesterday I drank over 6 litres because of the heat and I needed every bit of it.


How to get it down


Personally, I find plain water quite difficult to drink, and having sips during the day, as you're recommended to do, just doesn't work for me. I suffer from reflux, following a car crash, and if I sip all day, it gets much worse. Instead, I drink my water at set intervals throughout the day. I also drink it warm, which makes it easier to get down, and with a little cider vinegar added for both flavour and for health reasons (it's anti-inflammatory). It goes like this:

* On rising, two 400ml glasses.

* An hour later, following exercise, two 400ml glasses.

* Before lunch (about 12.30), two 400ml glasses.

* Before dinner (about 7.00pm), two 400ml glasses.

Total = 3.2 litres.

Plus, I drink:

* Water during the day if I feel thirsty. 

* After dinner, a pot of herbal tea. 

* Nothing after 9pm at the latest (to prevent reflux). 

This is the method that works for me, but I can't stress enough that people must listen to their individual body's needs. I drink a LOT of water for my body weight, and others may not need to. But if you suffer from constipation, or headaches, or back pain, do think first and foremost of drinking a little bit more.



Four things you can do right now to help your health

Here are four simple things you can do that don’t cost the earth and can improve your health dramatically

1 Jali neti

The Indians have done this for centuries - salt water nasal lavage. If you’re at all asthmatic or wheezy, have a persistent cough, hay fever, suffer from bronchitis or colds in winter, or simply live in an area where the air is polluted, jali neti is invaluable. Since I started doing it, I’ve not had any feelings of breathlessness from my asthma and this winter got right through the season without a cold, which for me is a miracle.

Nasal lavage cleans the cilia - tiny hairs inside your nostrils that constantly wave back and forth, keeping your airways clean. This reduces the amount of pollution or irritants, such as pollen, that get as far as your lungs. Your cilia can dispose of pollutants in about 15 minutes, whereas your lungs may hold onto them for weeks, so by keeping the cilia in good order, you improve your whole general health.

The procedure is simple - basically you tip warm salted water up through one nostril and it comes out of the other (it may take you a bit of time to get the right position, so you have to practise a bit - lean over the sink and tilt your head to one side. You’ll know when you get it right because to your surprise, water suddenly runs out of the other nostril). Rinse for 20-30 seconds, then blow your nose gently and do the other side. It feels a bit strange at first, and you may worry that you’ll choke, but you don’t - you can continue to breathe just fine through your mouth while you do it, and you can even hold a conversation. The action is only gravity-fed, so you don’t ‘flush water into your brain’ or anything daft like that either. The first few days, you’ll get a disgusting amount of gunk out of your nose, but once you’ve acquired the daily habit, the water just runs clear.

To do jali neti properly, it helps to have a neti pot, though I am still cobbling along with a teapot with a baby’s teat stuck on the end. Pots are either ceramic or metal and the different types have different advantages - a ceramic one can be warmed up in the microwave, but a metal one is better if you’re clumsy, as it’s easy to break a pot on the edge of the sink. It’s best to use neutral mineral water rather than fluoridated tap water, add enough salt so that the water tastes salty (it’s a matter of preference but use sea salt if you can, so there’s no anti-caking agent in it) and choose a temperature that you feel comfortable with. About half a pint of water and a teaspoon of salt is a good general average, and that’s enough water to give your nose a good cleaning.

Afterwards, bend forward and backwards to flush out the last drops, and walk around with a tissue for a bit, as you do tend to get a bit come down afterwards. Get into the habit of jali neti each morning and you won’t know how you managed without it. I do it before breakfast, while the coffee’s brewing.

2 Oil pulling

This is another Indian technique and works as a kind of mouthwash that keeps your mouth healthy and clean, and reduces tooth decay and gum disease. It’s also meant to increase the body’s resistance to infection because it stops you from swallowing so much bacteria. The recommended oil is organic sesame, but most oils will work - however, you want one that doesn’t have a strong flavour, because it’s going to be in your mouth for quite a while.

First thing in the morning, before you eat, put about a tablespoon of oil in your mouth and swish it around, in and out of your teeth etc. Pretty soon, it starts to feel foamy (I’ve therefore reduced the amount I use to just over a teaspoon, as it also increases in volume). The viscosity of the oil pulls the nasties out of your teeth and gums, and gradually the oil turns white and opaque. You’re meant to pull for 20 minutes but I’ve never managed more than five (it’s actually quite hard work on your jaw and tongue), but when you’ve had enough and the oil has gone good and bubbly, spit it all out (it’s now full of rubbish, so you don’t want to swallow it). Clean your teeth with water and bicarb of soda, then go eat your breakfast.

Ordinary mouthwash probably does exactly the same, and quicker, if you can tolerate it (I can’t).

3 Drink more water

Most of us don’t drink nearly enough water and mild dehydration is the leading cause of headaches, tiredness, constipation, dry skin and a host of other ills (for more details, read the book ‘Your Body’s Many Cries for Water’ by Dr F Batmanghelidj). Scientists also now know that thirst is a very poor indicator of dehydration - you need to train yourself to drink more, not just drink when you’re thirsty.

Personally, I find it difficult to remember to drink during the day, especially if I’m out and about, so here’s one trick I learned - drink a pint of warm water first thing in the morning, last thing at night and before lunch and dinner. Do this and you’ll have drunk four pints throughout the day, which is nearly 2 litres - quite a lot of water for the average person, especially if you’re also sipping throughout the day. Warming the water up makes it easier to glug it down, which is something I find particularly difficult, and the morning dose also has the advantage of kickstarting your digestive system and keeping you regular.

Whenever you do get thirsty, try to drink water - not coffee, tea, hot chocolate, wine, beer, fizzy drinks etc. If your body’s telling you it needs water, give it what it needs.

4 Shut your mouth

In other words, follow step one of the Buteyko breathing method. Invented by a Russian doctor, the Buteyko breathing method (Google for more info, and read ‘Close Your Mouth’ by Patrick McKeown) is designed to help asthmatics, but it also works to improve the health of anybody, making your breathing more efficient, deeper and slower (which keeps your heart slow, your blood pressure down and hopefully means you’ll live longer).

Although the more advanced techniques require some practice, and you’re advised to attend a class, the first step is very simple - from now on, no matter what you do, only breathe through your nose. That’s both the in breath and the out breath. By breathing only via the nose, you filter out pollution and bacteria, and prevent your lungs from losing too much moisture.

Breathing through the mouth is a habit that we all pick up, and we’re especially bad at it while eating, exercising, laughing or holding conversations. But as anyone who has asthma knows, a deep breath in through the mouth can cause an asthma attack or a coughing fit, especially when the air is cold. Many people also feel hoarse after an evening of conversation or laughter - the reason is that you’ve dried your throat and lungs out by breathing through your mouth. By breathing only through your nose, you’ll find that you become quieter in conversation, but learning to listen instead of talk might be no bad thing either. :)

Many people worry that they won’t be able to follow this technique because their nose gets blocked, but it you follow the jali neti procedure, your nose is very rarely blocked. It’s quite natural, though, over the course of the day, for your nostrils to take it in turns to breathe and to rest, swapping every four hours, so even if one nostril is blocked, you should be able to breathe through the other perfectly well.

Learning to breathe out only through your nose is harder than learning to breathe in, but it is especially useful when you’re exercising, to maintain moisture in your throat and lungs. If you’re not sure about this, try exercising with a scarf over your mouth instead.

Your Body’s Many Cries for Water is available from |

Close Your Mouth is available from |


For more information, go to: WebVivant


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