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Want to stay hydrated? Drink before you're thirsty

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Sep 6, 2021.

Thirst isn't a helpful indicator of hydration.

In fact, when you're thirsty, you could already be dehydrated, having lost as much as 1 to 2 percent of your body's water content. And with that kind of water loss, you may start to experience cognitive impairments — like stress, agitation and forgetfulness, to name a few.

In theory, a liquid that boosts mood, helps the body function properly and gets rid of excess toxins should be the go-to strategy for better health. But despite the fact that it's essential to survive — and that the body's made up of 60 percent of it — water often becomes a forgotten nutrient.

Want to know if you're hydrated? Check your urine.

Experts say a quick urine check could be the most effective DIY way to tell how hydrated you are. Simply look at the color of your urine. If it's pale yellow, you're hydrated. If it's a darker yellow, it's time for a glass of water (or two).

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that men drink 15.5 cups of water a day, and women drink 11.5 cups a day. But this is just a guideline.

How much water you need depends on a number of factors, such as what you eat and the way you move your body. Adequate hydration can even change based on climate and what the weather's like on any given day.

But figuring out how hydrated you are is only a part of the hydration equation. Upping your water intake takes practice — and consistency.

These simple steps can help you to find a habit for lifelong hydration.

1. Take notes

Nix that 12-cup-a-day goal. Instead, start small and set attainable goals — such as observing your current water intake. You won't know how to improve if you don't know where you're starting. Spend a day taking notes, keeping a pen and paper or a tracking app close by. Track the beverages you drink, the foods you eat and how you feel throughout the day.

2. Pick one method to try

Now you're ready to start experimenting. There are many tricks people use to drink more water. Start by picking one method to try today and take notes to compare.

  • Keep it visible. Try bringing a water bottle with you when you leave the house, or place a note to drink a glass of water on your fridge or nightstand.
  • Give it flavor. Try adding lemon or other fruits to sweeten your drink. It will add extra nutrients to your sip, which can boost your bill of health beyond hydration. Win-win!
  • Eat water-dense foods. As much as 20 percent of a person's daily fluid intake can come from food. Raw foods such as berries, celery and cucumbers can be a main source.
  • Set a sip time. Humans are creatures of habit. Make it a routine to take a drink of water before a meeting, a meal or whenever you start a new activity throughout the day.
  • Drink before you eat. Meals provide an easy opportunity for extra water, so try to sip through the meal or drink a glass of water before you start. Thirst is often misinterpreted as hunger, so this trick could even help slim your waistline.
  • Repay what you owe. You're constantly losing water — through perspiration, urination and even breathing. Try taking small sips throughout the day, and add a glass after any exercise or outdoor activity in the heat.

3. Focus on progress

After you've experimented with these hydration strategies — or a few of your own — look through your notes. What do you notice? If a certain tip didn't help, simply adjust your plan and try again tomorrow. Remember, drinking just a few more ounces of water today is more (and better) than you did yesterday.

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