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Water – how much is healthy?

I’d like to be able to tell you exactly how much water you should drink every day to remain healthy, but life isn’t quite that simple. What I do know is that water is very important to our health, so it’s better to drink a little too much than to risk being dehydrated.

Our bodies are packed with water, much of it contained in the millions of individual cells or flowing to all areas through the blood system. The incredibly complex combination of chemical reactions that keeps us alive takes place in that watery medium, and the constant flushing of water through and out of the body takes away many substances that would otherwise do us harm. I certainly wouldn’t want to hinder any of that by depriving my body of a good supply of water.

Different experts recommend different daily amounts of water intake. One of the commonest pieces of advice is eight 8-ounce glasses a day. Eight times eight is an easy one to remember. It’s not the only figure that’s been suggested but it’s not widely different from most recommendations.

Just to be clear on that amount, for those who don’t deal in ounces, it adds up to about 1.9 litres a day – or about eight 0.25-litre (250-ml) glasses.

Of course, if you’re like me, some of your water intake will be in the form of tea, coffee, fruit juice and occasionally something stronger. That’s OK, but most experts agree that pure water is healthier and should ideally make up the majority of your 1.9 litres.

These figures are based on what you need on a normally active day in a mild climate. When it’s hot, or if you’re doing extended vigorous exercise, you will need more. A runner, for example, may need to drink up to a litre extra per hour.

It’s possible to drink too much water, but generally that only happens in people like marathon runners who may be taking in so much that their body can’t handle it. It leads to a deficiency of sodium in the blood, which can make you feel uncomfortable and bloated. It’s actually a dangerous and even life-threatening condition, so do take extra advice on hydration if you are involved in that kind of endurance sport.

Normally, the only side-effect of drinking a bit too much is having to go to the toilet more often. If you actually feel thirsty, you are not drinking enough. But even without feeling thirsty you may be depriving your body of sufficient water to perform at its best.

Here’s my tip: if your urine is quite dark in color, you probably need to drink a bit more. If it’s colourless or pale yellow, and you’re going to the toilet fairly regularly, but not excessively, you’re probably drinking the right amount.