Drink Up for Spinal Health
Water plays many roles in our bodies, including maintaining electrolyte balance and blood pressure, lubricating joints, regulating body temperature, and promoting cell health. In fact, our bodies are about 70% water, so consuming adequate water daily is essential for optimal health. What you might not know, though, is that water is also critical to the functioning of our spines.
The health of your spine depends heavily on whether you are properly hydrated. The spine is constructed in such a way that dehydration can lead to limited mobility, decreased flexibility, and pain. Additionally, dehydration can cause the spine to age faster than it should which impacts the rest of the body.
Hydration and the Spine
The spine is made up of vertebrae connected by small joints. A disc sits between each vertebra, cushioning it and acting as a shock absorber. The discs allow the spine to bend and move about without the bones rubbing together.
Each spinal disc is comprised of two parts. The center of the disc, called the nucleus pulposis, consists mostly of water. It is surrounded by a tough, flexible outer ring that contains a gelatinous substance. The outer ring protects the center and the center protects the vertebrae, acting as a cushion for the bones.
If the fluid center does not have adequate water, it cannot do its job and the spine begins to experience problems. Aging makes it more difficult for the discs to rehydrate and a sedentary lifestyle complicates the process. That’s why proper hydration is necessary in order to maintain a healthy spine.
How Does the Spine Get Dehydrated?
As you go about your daily activities, each time you move, the spine compresses the discs, squeezing out the water within. Even walking or sitting can cause this as throughout the day gravity causes the spine to compress.
Rehydration of the discs occurs during the night using the water you’ve consumed during the day. This process replaces the old fluids with new hydration. The tissue in the discs gets replenished when the body rests and can undergo the restorative process.
However, if the body is dehydrated, it begins to retrieve water from other parts so it can reroute it to the vital organs and sustain life. First our bodies pull water from our extremities as well as the spine. When it deprives the spine of water in order to supply the organs then you remain in a constant deficit which can lead to pain, poor mobility, limited range of motion and decreased flexibility. Not only that, but chronic dehydration can cause your spine to age much faster which can have a ripple effect throughout the body.
How Much Water is Enough?
How much water you need depends in part on your age, diet, activity level and the time of year. For example, in the warmer months when we lose more water through perspiration, we also need to consume more water. As a rule of thumb, most health experts recommend eight 8-ounce glasses, or the equivalent of about half a gallon a day.
Sounds like a lot? It is, but here are some tips to help you get enough water throughout the day:
- Start your day with a glass of room temperature water. Not only will it help to rehydrate, but it can also help to wake up your digestive system.
- Use the alarm on your cell phone to remind you to hydrate throughout the day. Try setting a reminder to take a few sips of water every 30 minutes. Alternatively, set an hourly reminder to finish drinking your current glass of water and refill it.
- Keep a reusable water bottle nearby, even when you are away from home. Knowing how much water the container holds can also help you track how much water you’re drinking.
- Pay attention to when you feel thirsty and make sure you drink. We’re often already dehydrated by the time we feel thirsty, so do your best to be proactive.
- If you have an active lifestyle, increase your water consumption to replenish the water lost through perspiration.
- Don’t like plain water? Try making an infused water with citrus fruits, such as oranges and limes, to bring flavor to your water without adding calories.
- Drink a glass of water half an hour before each meal. As an added benefit, it may help curb your appetite if you’re trying to lose weight.
- Remember that fruits and vegetables have water, so incorporating more of them into your diet will up your fluid intake.
So drink up! Your spine and entire body will thank you. Be well!