We sometimes mentally downgrade dehydration to a risk that we only need to worry about in the summer. In fact, we need to think about staying hydrated all year round, to boost our sense of wellbeing and to avoid the serious health symptoms that come with dehydration.
Today we’re looking at some of the factors that contribute to dehydration during colder weather, and what you can do to redress the balance!
Cold weather brings with it several additional risks of dehydration: cold, dry weather outside and heating inside can mean drier air wherever you go, which saps your body’s fluid reserves. You’ll notice your sinuses drying out, your throat feeling dry, even your eyes feeling irritated. In the coldest weather even precipitation can’t make the air more hydrated and comfortable, as it falls locked away as snow and ice.
The biggest threat, though, is the effect the cold has on our bodies. Cold weather can actually suppress our sense of thirst! As you get colder, your body concentrates blood flow in your core. This causes your hands to go pale and numb with cold (and tingle uncomfortably as they warm up), but also fools your body into thinking it’s more hydrated than it is. When you’re cold, you feel less thirsty, you’re less likely to realise you need to rehydrate and take a drink. Extreme cold can even actively drain your fluid levels as it encourages your kidneys to excrete all the fluid they can to compensate for the increased arterial pressure! In short: in cold weather you have to be consciously watchful of your hydration levels as your unconscious reminders are less effective.
Staying Hydrated in the Cold
If you’re heading out into cold weather, be prepared. A long walk in the countryside can be a winter highlight, but it can also lead into serious dehydration if you’re not ready for it. Dress warmly: if you can stay warm, you’ll lessen the risk of your sense of thirst being repressed.
Make sure you bring drinks with you. While water is the best drink for rehydrating, it’s not the only option, and on very cold days, a warm drink in a thermos flask may be a more tempting option than cold water. Even tea and coffee, which act as diuretics, still rehydrate more than they dehydrate! If you need to, set alarms on your phone to remind you when it’s time to take a drink.
Finally, make sure you’re ready for dehydration. Keeping a stock of solutions like ORS hydration tablets, sachets from the pharmacy or isotonic sports drinks can all help to restore not just your fluid balance, but also the electrolytes that you lose when you’re dehydrated, and ensure you don’t suffer the ill effects.