One of the first things I have clients focus on is developing good hydration habits and it’s probably not for the reason you think.
The dog days of Summer will remind us to drink more water. The hot weather, the additional time outside and all the sweating are constant reminders to drink up. But we aren't quite there yet, we've got a few more months to go. With the world starting to open back up now that a Vaccine has arrived many of us will resume our hectic and fast paced lifestyles. It’s times like these that we start to see people’s fatigue levels increase and often stress coincides.
I’ve often had clients question why water is so important if they aren’t out doing tons of cardio or running long distances and I’ve also heard that many people don’t “buy in” to the daily recommended water intake. Our bodies are 60% water and our brain and heart alone are composed of 72% water.
If you are an avid exerciser and aren’t drinking enough water, it will surely lower your performance and recovery over time. This is a cumulative effect. The concerns I have are the ways that dehydration will affect your organs on a daily basis, specifically the brain. Even more so if you're struggling with trauma or stress.
You’ll often see water recommended to help recover from workouts, to help energy, to keep your body water in balance. Etc… but what we often don’t talk about in the fitness world is why you need to hydrate for motivation, productivity, concentration and mood all of which lead to better outcomes and longer durations of success.
We all know those days where we wake up exhausted, cranky and wanting to hit snooze. Those aren’t the days we are excited to workout or interested in pursuing our goals. If you are chronically dehydrated you will experience lagging workouts, decreased energy, decreased mood and all of these things make us not want to work towards our goals on a daily basis.
Let’s dive a little deeper. The long term consequences of chronic dehydration on cognitive function are staggering. Here are some of the things you need to know that might get you thinking about hydration a little bit differently!
Chronic Dehydration Issues
1. Decreased blood flow to muscles and to the brain.
2. Dehydration reduces cardiac output and blood flow to the muscles and brain. This already doesn’t sound so good does it?
3 . The brain uses about 20% of available oxygen which means that Cerebral blood flow is a crucial factor in overall wellness. Have you ever seen a marathon runner looking dazed and confused and unable to walk or run? This is an acute and extreme case of dehydration. If we take chronic daily dehydration we can see decreased function in similar areas but just to a far less extent. This directly impacts our workouts by decreasing our capacity to do work.
4. It also makes us more sensitive to triggers and stress.
GUESS WHAT? That decreased blood flow means your body has to work harder to circulate that blood. Your body is already working hard in a state of fight or flight. This is going to contribute to fatigue and stress.
Decreased Focus and Concentration
1. Without water, it can be difficult to focus throughout the day.
2. This leads to greater effort and consequently greater fatigue. It can also affect our mood. Our brain cells rely heavily
on water and how it reacts with other elements
in the body. Without this reaction, brain cells lose efficiency.
GUESS WHAT? PTSD and anxiety already make concentration and focus hard enough. Add in dehydration and it only gets worse!
1. Various studies have shown that mild to moderate levels of dehydration can impair short-term memory. This will have a direct impact on your productivity and quality of work.
2. It can also affect your day to day interactions with others and make it harder to stick to a plan.
GUESS WHAT? YUP! PTSD impacts your memory as does dehydration. Memory issues associated with dehydration can trigger sensitive memories.
1. Even mild dehydration has an impact on our mood.
2. Dehydration creates fatigue and decreased attention span which can make us irritable and anxious.
GUESS WHAT? If we have a preexisting mental health condition, dehydration can be triggering making us more susceptible to exacerbated mental health struggles.
1. We all know not to drink alcohol and drive. What about the concept of NOT DRINKING ENOUGH WATER and driving? Sounds silly? Think again!
2. Studies have shown that those who were even mildly dehydrated commit a significantly greater number of errors in driving compared to when they are hydrated.
3. In fact, their performance during dehydration compared to performance while under the influence of alcohol. Increased lane drifting, delayed brake time and a general lack of awareness were all increased.
Being in a constant state of fight or flight makes our muscles tense, tired and we can experience brain fog. Diminished sleep and energy can also lower our motor control. Don't make it worse by being dehydrated!
1. There is a cluster of neurons in our brain that are critical for motivation. They are located in the middle of the brain. THIS IS OUR REWARD SYSTEM!
2. Moderate levels of dehydration affect our brain function in the mid-brain and frontal lobe specifically which are responsible for reward system, decision making, judgement, motivation, emotional expression and forward thinking.
3. If we have decreased function in the areas it is more likely we succumb to instant gratification desires of sitting and resting on the couch and skipping workouts instead of sticking to our routine and goals.
The link between your brain and your goals is so important! We put so much time into planning our workouts but we miss the brain health piece of the puzzle. If we aren’t focused and motivated, it doesn’t matter what workout program or goals we have planned because we probably won’t be sticking with it anyways.
If you have high stress or are recovering from trauma, you will become dehydrated more easily. You will also have much more muscle tension and dehydration will heighten that. Staying hydrated can help you maintain homeostasis and rebalance after trigger.
But seriously! Ever have a pounding headache, muscle tension and aches after a high stress day? Think back to how much you hydrated? I'm guessing it wasn't much.
DO YOURSELF A FAVOR and stay hydrated... ESPECIALLY during high stress times. This is something that is in your control and will help alleviate other symptoms of stress. It's a very simple form of self-care that goes a long way!