By Jan Engoren
With Palm Beach County temperatures this summer regularly in the 90s and heat indexes well over 100, the question arises: How do you stay hydrated, especially in the relentless Florida sun?
“The best medicine is prevention,” says Daniel S. Gutman, assistant professor of medicine at FAU’s Schmidt College of Medicine and an internist at Baptist Health in Boynton Beach. An avid cyclist and runner, Gutman will usually mix 20 ounces of water with a sugar-free Gatorade to replace electrolytes lost during sweating.
“There is no magic number of how many glasses of water to drink,” he says. “I advise my patients to listen to their bodies. Drink before you’re thirsty.”
He recommends carrying water with you, exercising early or late in the day and staying on top of hydrating.
“Here in Palm Beach County, we like to remain young forever,” he jokes. “In addition to hydrating, remember to wear a hat, long sleeves and use UV protection.”
Susan Klein Overson, a retired park planner for the National Park Service whose parents lived in Delray Beach, offers one cautionary story. She was hiking in Costa Rica without an adequate water supply.
When she returned home she developed flu-like symptoms.
“I had nausea, a headache and felt weak and tired,” she says. “It can sneak up on you.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, our bodies are composed of 50-70% water and every cell, tissue and organ relies on water to function properly. A lack of adequate water can lead to dehydration, which can lead to serious illness.
Signs of dehydration include weakness, dizziness, sluggishness, fainting or heart palpitations.
Staying hydrated helps the heart more easily pump blood through the vessels to the muscles and helps muscles work efficiently. Dehydration causes the heart to work harder.
The American Heart Association recommends drinking water before, during and after going outside in hot weather.
Like Gutman, the association says if you wait until you’re thirsty, you’ve waited too long.
When you sweat, you lose fluid and electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chloride, phosphate and bicarbonate.
Replacing these fluids and electrolytes is essential. But what is the best method to replace them and how much water should you consume?
The purpose of rehydrating is to put fluid back into your system so your organs can function properly. The amount of fluid you need depends on the climate, the type of clothing worn and the intensity and duration of your exertion.
Opinions vary but a rule of thumb is for women to drink 11.5 cups of fluid daily and men to drink 15.5 cups, as recommended by the Mayo Clinic. Of course, if you are exercising in the heat or working outside, you may need to increase these amounts.
Most experts recommend consuming about half your fluid intake in water and the other half in an electrolyte beverage that contains some carbohydrates. But, watch out for excess sugar and artificial sweeteners.
One way to tell if you’re drinking enough is if your urine is clear in color.
Another simple method to stay hydrated is to eat fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers, watermelon, grapes, spinach and cantaloupe. Houston-based artist Gregg Optekamp was in South Florida last summer selling his art near the beach. To prepare, he would eat a good breakfast and drink plenty of fluids, including Pedialyte.
When the heat became too intense, he poured ice water over his head, drank a liter of water and found shade to cool down in for 30 minutes.
“Balancing my time in the heat was a matter of survival,” he says. “I had to build stamina to withstand the heat.
“Shade and water are important to avoid overheating,” he says.
He freezes bottles of water and keeps a wet hand towel in a cooler.
Delray Beach artist Ari Hirschman, also a hiker and cyclist, says he has gotten dehydrated so many times “it’s not even funny.”
“But that’s what you get for biking and hiking in the Florida summer,” he says.
He had dry heaves from getting dehydrated and lost as much as 15 pounds after a day of hiking.
Now he drinks an extra two liters of water each day and takes a big plastic cup of water with electrolytes and ice with him to work and drinks another on the way home. He even takes one when he walks the dog.
“I’m not quite made for the Florida heat,” he says, “but I don’t ever stop doing what I love.”
Jan Engoren writes about health and healthy living. Send column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.