Yeah, we know; you've heard it all before, "Water is good for you, blah, blah, blah." But there's more to H2O than simply quenching your thirst, and chances are a few of these tips will surprise you. In fact, they may even help you lose weight. So put down that soda, pick up a glass of tap, and learn how one of Earth's most precious natural resources can help better fuel your life, body, and diet.
1. Water Keeps You Hydrated
We know this seems obvious, but the truth is your body can't function at its most basic level without ample amounts of water. Says Lonny Horowitz, a board certified bariatrician practicing in the Atlanta area: "Every metabolic process in the body, whether it be a muscle contraction or a biochemical reaction in the liver, requires water to be present." So what happens if your body doesn't get enough? Horowitz describes it simply: "If you get dehydrated, you become beef jerky. Your tissues begin to dry, and the actual chemical activity in your body is reduced, so you won't have the energy to do things like burn fat and exercise," he says. But how will you know when you're running low on H2O? According to the Mayo Clinic, if you're thirsty, constipated, tired, or are producing less urine, you may already be dehydrated.
2. Water Makes You Feel Full
Yes, you read that correctly: Drinking a glass or two of water before a meal can help you practice portion control. This is a great tip, because many of us, even those who aren't dieting, tend to overeat. "Anything that takes up space in your stomach is going to cause you to feel fuller earlier," says Horowitz. But don't think you can down a glass of water and only eat half of your dinner. "Liquids pass through the body much more quickly, so the effect of feeling full will not be as long term as eating solid food," he explains. So the trick is to eat smaller—but not minuscule—portions. That way you won't be hungry again as soon as the water passes through your system.
3. Water Flushes Toxins from Your Body
Staying properly hydrated is the only way we can effectively purge our bodies of toxins. "It's like cleaning up a construction site," says Horowitz. "The toxins are the unused junk that's leftover, and our bodies remove this waste through sweat, urine, and stool." But you need to have enough fluids present for that to happen. "If you don't," Horowitz says, "your kidneys won't work as effectively, and the toxins will become more concentrated and difficult to expel." This will have a negative effect on your liver, kidney, and bowel function—all of which play an important role in the weight-loss process—and can lead to built-up toxins entering your blood stream, potentially causing a host of other problems.
4. Water Keeps You Regular
This is closely related to flushing toxins (it's part of the same process, after all), but there are other benefits to having regular bowel movements than ridding the body of pollutants. People with chronic constipation are more likely to experience numerous diseases and conditions, from diabetes to colon cancer, and people who have regular bowel movements are less likely to be obese, according to the State of Minnesota's Office of the Ombudsman for Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.
5. Water Helps You Sweat
Sweating may be embarrassing sometimes (such as when it's visible on your clothes), but it's a necessary function, as it regulates and cools your body temperature. It's a huge boon whenever you're exercising, but if you're not properly hydrated, you won't be able to sweat as much as you need to. If you can't sweat, you'll get hotter and tire more quickly, and you won't be able to exercise. Or worse: "If you push yourself physically when you're not properly hydrated," says Horowitz, you could "get heat stroke and [possibly] die."
6. Water Helps You Exercise
Not only does water keep your internal heat gauge in check when you're running laps or shooting hoops, but it also physically assists you while you do those things (and any other physical activity). Water lubricates your joints so you can move easily, and it hydrates your muscles to prevent cramping. "When I have patients who are complaining of muscle cramps, one of the first things I do is tell them to increase their fluids," says Horowitz. "You need to have water present for the actual contraction and expansion of muscles to take place," he says. "It just won't work any other way."
7. Water is Better Than the Alternatives
Water has zero calories and a host of benefits. Sure, you can be hydrated from sources like milk, soda, or tea, but, according to the Mayo Clinic, "Water is still your best bet because it's calorie-free, inexpensive, and readily available."
But even if you're not trying to cut calories, swapping water for soda can still have a positive effect on your health. Just look at the ingredient list on almost any brand of cola and you're likely to find chemicals such as phosphoric acid (shown to lower bone density in a study conducted by researchers at Tufts University) and caramel color (a carcinogenic substance that the Center for Science in the Public Interest tried to convince the FDA to ban). In other words, regardless of what size your waistline is, water makes for a healthy beverage choice. Period.