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5 Simple Tips to Help Grow Hydration Habits

Marsha Miller, MS, RD, offers basic steps to drink more water and support overall body and brain health.

Written by Rachel Sauer on January 30, 2023

Even when the temperature outside dips into single digits and we might forget our summer habits, one remains vital throughout the year: drinking enough water.

According to National Institutes of Health research published January 2, well-hydrated adults appear to live longer and develop fewer chronic conditions than adults who don’t take in enough fluids.

“We focus a lot on food as fuel for movement and recovery, and we need to think about water the same way: as fuel for hydration, for transporting nutrients, for digestion, for maintaining body temperature,” says Marsha Miller, MS, RD, a transformation coach with the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center. “Water helps us absorb nutrients and get them wherever they need to go, it helps us eliminate waste, it cushions our joints and protects sensitive tissues, it supports brain function. It’s absolutely vital for our bodies that we get enough of it.”

However, even in areas with potable and easily accessible water, some people may struggle to drink enough every day. In fact, according to Centers for Disease Control data, between 2015 and 2018, the mean daily plain water intake for U.S. adults was just 44 ounces, significantly below the 91 ounces of total water intake for women and 125 ounces for men recommended as a general guide by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Because even mild dehydration can lead to lethargy, irritability, dizziness, constipation, and mental fuzziness, among other symptoms, it’s important to be aware of and work toward adequate hydration each day, Miller says. She offers these five tips for cultivating good hydration habits.

1. Consider total water intake.

Total water intake includes not just drinking water, but water in other beverages as well as water in food.

“Maybe you put water in your protein shake in the morning, or you have a mid-morning mug of herbal tea,” Miller says. “There are other liquids that contribute positively to our total water intake. Plus, ideally our bodies are getting about 20% of our total hydration from the foods we eat.”

Foods such as cucumber, celery, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, and, of course, watermelon have water content above 90%. Making water-rich foods a regular part of our diets may benefit not just total hydration, Miller says, but show other health benefits as well, including those from fiber and other nutrients.

“One thing I do emphasize, though, is that yes, hydration is vital, but certain things like sugared sodas, caffeinated sodas, alcohol, sugared coffee drinks, juices with high sugar content are things to limit,” Miller says. “That doesn’t mean you can’t drink them, but they may not be significant assets to total hydration and there may be other associated health consequences.”

2. Set an alarm.

“Oftentimes, people get busy and forget to eat, and the same thing can happen with hydration: We forget to have a drink, and by the time we feel thirsty that can mean we’re already mildly dehydrated,” Miller says. “Sometimes, I’ll recommend that people set a reminder alarm on their cell phone. So, whether it’s reminding us every hour to drink a glass of water, or telling us to drink one right when we get up, that can help.”

This can be especially helpful for people with busy jobs that may not easily accommodate bathroom breaks. “Some people may be going non-stop all day, or may be driving and can’t easily stop, so they can set reminders for themselves to front-load water in the morning before work, say, or get a lot of it in at lunchtime or whenever they’re able to take a break,” Miller says.

3. Make it taste good.

“Not everybody likes plain water,” Miller says. “If that’s the case, I encourage people to think about the flavors they like and what they can add to water to make it something they really want to drink.”

Called water enhancers, these add-ins may include sliced fresh fruit like lemons, oranges, or strawberries, or sugar-free and no- or low-sodium flavorings like Crystal Light or True Lemon. Making bubbly water with devices like a Soda Stream also can help people drink more, Miller says.

4. Make it appealing.

Do you like drinking from an insulated metal water bottle festooned with stickers representing your travels? From a reusable cup with a straw? From one of those 64-ounce jobs with a sturdy handle?

“Anything reusable, in my opinion, is awesome,” Miller says. “Whatever motivates you to drink water is what you could be using, so if you want to put stickers all over it or get a bottle in a color you love, then that’s what you should do.

“It has to be something you want to carry and use because you’ve got to take your water bottle with you everywhere you go. You’ve got to bring it to the car, bring it into the house, bring it to your desk. If it’s not readily at hand, I guarantee you it’s going to be that much harder to be adequately hydrated.”

5. Keep track.

Whether it’s making a check on your water bottle with a dry erase marker every time you fill it, keeping track on your phone, or even writing a note, tracking each time you drain and refill the bottle or glass can help build a hydration habit.

“There are guidelines all over the place for much we should be drinking, because we’re all different and our needs may vary by age, if we’re an athlete, if we’re working toward weight loss,” Miller says. “But a very general idea for most healthy American adults is to drink between a half-ounce to an ounce of water per pound of body weight every day. Again, this is very general, and every person has unique needs. Overall, the message is whatever strategy or tip motivates you to drink more water, choose it!”

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Marsha Miller, MS, RD