Updated May 8, 2022 - Health

Finish Line: America's thirst

Illustration of an American flag with the blue half full with water

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

You need to start drinking (water) — fast and furiously. 

Why it matters: Chances are very high that you're dehydrated. Studies show up to 75% of us are not drinking enough water. 

Dehydration — even mild — hits every part of your body, from your brain to your gut to your skin.

  • You may be dealing with a slew of ailments and annoyances that you didn't even know water could wash away, experts say.

By the numbers: The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that the average man drink about a gallon of water a day and that the average woman drink 3/4 of a gallon.

Reality check: You're probably not doing that. A gallon is 8 to 10 tall glasses of water. And the majority of us don't drink enough because we forget or get busy.

  • Up to 20% of your daily water intake comes from food, but the rest you need to get from drinking.

The stakes: Dehydration is a common cause of hospital admission, doctors say

  • Researchers have associated dehydration with declines in focus and short-term memory. 
  • And studies have linked drinking more water to the prevention of hypertension, constipation and urinary tract infections as well as weight loss.

Here are our hydration tips, gleaned from experts and scientific literature.

  1. When? Drink water before and after meals to aid in digestion. And sip your water throughout the day instead of chugging it.
  2. What? Water is the best choice, but not the only beverage that counts. Walter Willett, an epidemiologist and nutritionist at Harvard's School of Public Health, says low-sugar teas and juices and seltzer waters work well to mix it up. Even light beer counts, he says. But get plenty of plain water too.
  3. How? Stay on top of your hydration goals by pre-filling and refrigerating reusable water bottles or large pitchers. You'll be likelier to drink enough if you don't have to remember to fill and count glasses. And if you're on the go and prefer cold water, freeze your bottles overnight so you'll get ice-cold water throughout the day.

The bottom line: Drinking more water is a simple and easy way for all of us to improve our health.

Editor's note: This story originally published on May 2.

Go deeper