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Stay Hydrated in the Heat of Summer

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Summer in Oregon is a wonderful time to be outside gardening, hiking and enjoying the sunshine while it’s here. Just be sure to get plenty of fluids – on a hot day dehydration can sneak up on you faster than you might expect.

How to Hydrate

Being thirsty is an early sign that you are already slightly dehydrated. The color of your urine is a good indicator of whether you’re getting enough water. Urine that is nearly clear or pale yellow like lemonade means your body has the fluid that it needs. As urine becomes the color of apple juice or darker the body is becoming dehydrated and needs more water.

“Hydration works best as a daily habit,” said Doug Aukerman, MD, a sports medicine physician at Samaritan Athletic Medicine Center. “Getting enough water every day means your organs have what they need to function properly and it gives you a little wiggle room if a problem arises.”

Eight, eight-ounce glasses of water a day is enough for most people. If you’re sweating a lot because of the heat, you’ll need more. Dr. Aukerman recommends talking to your doctor about how much water you should drink if you are diabetic or taking diuretic pills.

Summer Heat, Dehydration & You

When it’s hot, your body pumps a higher volume of blood to your skin causing you to sweat. As the sweat evaporates off the skin, it helps cool you. This works best when the air is cooler than your body temperature, 98.6° F on average. If your body is struggling to cool off, your core temperature may rise and your heart will have to work harder as it pumps blood to meet the additional demands of stimulating a sweat response.

“Sweating is essential because it keeps your body from overheating, which is very hard on your heart and other organs,” said Dr. Aukerman. “If you’re sweating because you’re overheated, staying hydrated is one of the best ways you can support your body and help it cool off.”

When the heat is extreme, you may sweat more and need to drink more to offset those lost fluids. If you are in an area with high humidity, sweat won’t cool your body as effectively since it won’t evaporate quickly in the moist air. Find other ways to cool yourself off. A heat advisory is a great excuse to head for the river or sit in air conditioning with a cool drink. Alcoholic, caffeinated and very sugary beverages aren’t a good choice if you’re dehydrated; these drinks can actually dehydrate your body further. Stick to plain, carbonated and flavored water when the heat is high. 

Consequences of Dehydration

Mild dehydration can leave you feeling dizzy, tired or nauseous. In this early stage the condition is very easy to remedy — simply drink a glass of water. Severe dehydration symptoms include lack of urination or dark urine, rapid heartbeat, dry skin, sunken eyes, confusion and fever or chills. Get medical help immediately for a combination of these symptoms, as consuming water orally may not be safe. Dr. Aukerman notes that severe dehydration most often occurs following a long bout of vomiting or diarrhea.

Moderate dehydration can also be damaging. If the body is continually dehydrated over weeks or months, it can lead to health complications like urinary tract infections, kidney stones and low blood volume, a serious condition where blood cannot adequately oxygenate tissue and blood pressure drops.

Special Care for Older Adults

While the body weight of the average adult is about 70 percent water; it reduces to about 50 percent in older adults. Aging can also cause a diminished sweat response and a decline in physical fitness. When paired with medications and chronic conditions, these can all contribute to seniors who don’t fare well in the heat.

“People over age 65 sometimes feel thirsty less often so they aren’t thinking about drinking as regularly,” said Dr. Aukerman. “They are already a little dehydrated so it takes much less for them to become dangerously dehydrated.”

For dehydration due to extreme heat, seniors are especially at risk for fatal heat stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Check that loved ones can easily get themselves water and access air conditioning during heat advisories.

Hydration During Exercise

Whether your exercise is marathon training or a round of golf, staying hydrated will help you feel better. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends consuming about 17 ounces of fluids two hours before you start in order to be properly hydrated at the beginning of your session.

If you are exercising for less than an hour and it’s a routine that you are used to, you probably don’t need to worry about hydrating during your workout unless the heat or humidity is extreme. Plain water is usually sufficient.

A condition called dilutional hyponatremia can occur if you are exercising for more than hour and drink more than 27 ounces of water an hour. The electrolytes in your system can be thrown off balance and lead to swelling of the brain, seizures or death. For endurance athletes who need a high volume of continual hydration, sports drinks are a good choice because they contain sodium and will keep electrolytes safely balanced during exercise.

Tips to Stay Hydrated

To keep yourself hydrated this summer, Dr. Aukerman recommends the following:

  • Drink eight, eight-ounce glasses of water a day, more if it’s hot or you’re sweating a lot. Invest in a reusable water bottle to keep at your desk, in your car or by the couch if it helps you drink more, and keep track of how much you’re consuming. 
  • Eat foods with a high-water content. Fruits and veggies like watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, lettuce, tomato and cucumber can help you get more fluids. See ideas for refreshing treats you can make at home.
  • Don’t overexert in the heat. When temperatures rise, take a break from outdoor chores and exercise to rest in a cool location.
  • Keep drinking, even if you don’t feel well. Vomiting and diarrhea are both big risk factors for dehydration. A summer cold, sore throat or other minor illness can also keep you from drinking regularly. Taking tiny sips can be helpful when you’re feeling sick.

When you need care right away, Samaritan Health Services offers urgent care services and same day appointments. Learn about your options at samhealth.org/CareNow.

Drinking from a stream can be risky, learn more and get tips to stay safe. Read more about dehydration and heat stroke in our health library.