Water and its Benefit to the Brain
If you walk into any Pathfinders office, one of the basic tools you’ll find at every desk is water. Our students drink water at every session, no matter if that session lasts 30 minutes or 3 hours. Today, we’re going to discuss how water benefits the brain, how easily mild dehydration can muddle the brain and why water is the best source of hydration for the body.
Water is one of the most important things our bodies need to survive. Three days without it and we die! Every part of the body, from our skin to the digestive system; from our lungs to the brain, need water to function properly and efficiently. When looking at the brain specifically, water helps the brain conduct messages between neurons, producing faster processing speeds. Water also helps carry oxygen to the brain, acting like a little energy boost.
When our brains can’t get enough water, nearly every aspect of cognition is impaired, including mood, motor function, processing speed, pain sensitivity, memory recall, and attention skills.
You don’t have to do rigorous exercise to become dehydrated. We use up water just by breathing. In fact, it was commonly thought adverse effects of dehydration on cognition began once a person had lost 2% of their body weight of water. A recent study suggests lower mental performance may occur much sooner than that.
In 2016, David Benton of Swansea University had participants perform mental tasks in an 86°F room. He measured their hydration levels with urine samples and subject-reported thirst levels. The subjects who were more dehydrated found these tasks to be more challenging than the hydrated subjects. At the end of the 4-hour experiment, participants had on average lost only 0.72% of their body weight in water – far below the previously supposed 2%.
Staying hydrated is critical. Does that mean sports drinks will help us stay even more hydrated? Not really. Sports drinks were originally invented for university athletes who played high-intensity sports. Today they are marketed to professional athletes as much as to the average consumer, who probably don’t need them. Sports drinks should only be used during intense physical activity lasting more than one hour. Water should be drunk throughout the day or during less intense physical activity. Sports drinks and other flavored beverages often have added sugar. True, they are still mostly water, but that extra sugar can affect attention control and energy modulation. It also adds empty calories that undermine a nutritious diet.
So what can we do to make sure we are getting enough water for our brains? Just as we break our fast in the morning and eat a good breakfast, we should also drink some water after those 8 hours of dehydration. Drink a glass of water before your morning coffee or breakfast. This will instantly rehydrate the brain, making it easier to deal with all your morning to-dos more efficiently and accurately.
Remember to drink water throughout the day, even if your job is sedentary. We dehydrate just by existing, so keeping a water bottle in sight during your day will help remind you to give your brain a break with some added hydration. The elderly and very young often don’t register thirst enough to remain properly hydrated. Make sure your little ones and older ones stay properly hydrated, too. Like everything else in life, it will take time to create a habit of drinking water but soon it will become part of your family’s routine.
Keep those brain cells firing, receiving and sending signals between your brain and the rest of your body, by having a glass of water nearby throughout your day for you as well as your loved ones, and DRINK it.