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Healthy aging - Hydration as a vital part of a healthier you

Your youthful energy lies at the bottom of your water bottle.

Do you ever feel sluggish and foggy, wondering whether you are mutating into a garden slug? Feel so tired you can barely roll out of bed from your multi-hour nap? Or maybe you just noticed that with reaching the end of your thirties, you also seem to be reaching the end of your boundless energy? As you know, I loved my twenties, for a large part for the bottomless energy I seemed to possess. And yes, I also asked myself these above questions: am I mutating? Will I live in a state of perpetua

l fatigue and muscle ache? If you know me in person, you also know that I am an avid reader and nerdy, lifelong student, always learning something new. During the slug inception, I feared that studying or learning new information was now going to be much harder. It would wear me out quite a bit.

To my great relief, there were some ‘easy fixes’. I put this in quotation marks as it was definitely not easy for me to make changes, and it certainly is not a fix in that it will halt the inevitable (that approaching 100 years of age, I will slow down). But it definitely helps make it much more enjoyable. As in: I am not feeling my age!

“Miss, you need reading glasses”, my optometrist once nicely exclaimed on a routine exam and was quite detached about it. Of course she would be, it’s not the end of the world after all! But it was for me – for a moment. Then I tried reading glasses and got excited about two things: a) I was not losing my sharp mind since reading now did not strain my eyes and make me tired after only half a page, and b) I got to go choose a cool and nerdy style of sexy librarian glasses that put a sunny smile on my lovely husband’s face.

Of course this did not help my perpetual slug state. My husband is quite the fit fencer who is also an accomplished home chef with fabulous knowledge on how to present mouth-watering meals that pack a power punch on a regular basis, in record time. Stay tuned for our “Cadwell Kitchen” coming soon. What he told me was something so shockingly simple, it never even crossed my mind. As a highly accomplished physician who manages people’s chronic illnesses on a daily basis (and quite successfully I might say 😉), I really should have seen that one coming…

Drink more water.

Kabloom. I was stunned. How did I miss this? Funny story too since I kept telling my patients to drink more water!

My husband used to fence in tournaments, and is an avid hiker as well, including back country hiking, so he has great insights into how to nourish the body most efficiently and keep energetic. Being European, drinking water was not really my thing. Maybe we have caught up by now, but in Germany it definitely was not on the daily health education agenda. I struggled for a bit (a minute or so) before giving in and buying a water bottle, citing ‘evidence’ that drinking water makes me run to the bathroom instantly and in 5-minute intervals, et cetera. But I tried anyway.

At first, I added just a bit more water, an extra glass here and there. I discovered that I do better with holding off enjoying the majority of my hydration in the afternoon. Mornings require only a small amount for me. But everyone is different, and you will find your own rhythm.

Why is water and hydration important? Our bodies are made up of roughly 60% water. Our systems all require the precious liquid to function properly. Every single cell in our body needs H2O and the right amount of electrolytes to function at its best. More on electrolytes another day.

You may think that you take in enough because you drink liquids when thirsty, for example. When you feel thirsty, you are likely already dehydrated. The other bad news: as we get older, our sensors to signal thirst = dehydration are less sensitive which is why older people tend to drink less water than someone in the same circumstances who is much younger. Unless, of course, the older person makes it a point to actively keep up hydration.

How much water should you drink every day? 8 glasses of water? More? Less? Are other liquids ok? There are numerous studies on this subject. We could probably have a dissertation-style discussion right here and now. It gets confusing when all you want for your personal goal is to hydrate your body to peak wellness, energy, and to reach the diametrically opposed feeling from a slug.

As a rule of thumb, I recommend to my patients that hydrating throughout the day to keep your urine a light-yellow color usually is a great indicator for your hydration state. If urine is concentrated, your body is hanging on to as much water as it can, ultimately making less urine which can be tough on your kidneys. And our kidneys age with us. So be sure to water them like a houseplant you really love 😊 Not too much, not too little.

If you have a chronic illness that requires you to watch your water intake for any reason, or you are on medication to regulate your water volume, please talk to your doctor first before making any changes to your water intake.

What about other liquids, like tea, coffee, sodas, milk, juices, sports drinks and so on? You can of course consume those, keeping in mind that caffeine has a mild diuretic effect (there is discussion on the subject whether it dehydrates you or has minimal to no effect; I think it depends on your overall hydration habits and hydration status), and you want to be mindful about any beverages with added sugars. Those make certain drinks taste fabulous, can give you a bit of an energy boost if needed, but may mess with your gut (think bloating, diarrhea, and belly rolls) and aid in weight gain and insulin resistance that increase your risk of developing diabetes. Find your balance and do not feel guilty for loving your soda, though! Any changes you make will be gradual, and do not feel bad if you cannot seem to find the “will power” to cut out “bad carbs”.

Rome was clearly not built in a day, and neither were the habits you and your brain developed over a lifetime. I tried rapid changes towards a healthier me in the past and was always left exhausted after a while, yearning to go back to my old ways. After some trial and error, and the great insight and support from my husband, I found that the following steps are a great place to start to take on new habits.

Here are 7 steps to help you to a successful transformation with self-compassion:

1. Start small.

Make small changes at the start. You may want to start with adding just one extra glass of water during the day. Listen to what your body is telling you.

2. Make gradual changes.

Remember that it is about progress, not perfection. Take it slow and find your own pace.

3. Crowd out habits you want to change.

Slowly add enough water over time to meet your body’s need for hydration. As you do so, you may start noticing how your hydration and drinking habits change as more water is part of your day, and you start reaching less for the soda for example.

4. Do not feel bad or beat yourself up over ‘not doing it right’.

It is a journey at your pace and shaped by your own unique makeup. There is no size one-size-fits-all approach, or the ‘right way’. Find your way that works for you.

5. Do not judge yourself.

Instead, celebrate small steps even if you are not consistent in the beginning. Getting started is the hard part.

6. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself.

You spent years, likely decades, building the dietary habits you have currently. It takes time to make changes. Find what works best for you, you are the expert at being you. Focus on the changes you have accomplished (even if that is simply making the decision to get started!).

7. Set realistic goals with a timeline.

There is no rush. Forcing a radical change will likely end in frustration. Find your rhythm to incorporate more water into your day and stick with it. Set yourself a realistic timeline (it can be anything from days to months) but do not give it too much slack. Remember, you want to form a new habit. If you take new steps too infrequently, it becomes an obligation you will likely abandon.

I hope you enjoyed today’s excursion into some simple first steps to a more vital you. We will continue on this journey of nourishing your body to ace the years successfully. In our adventure together of discovering how precious and valuable you are, no matter what age, I hope that you find pride in yourself, value the unique person that you are and find joy in caring for yourself.

Until next time!

XOXO from Katharina 😊

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