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Every system of the body – every cell of every organ – requires water in order to function properly. On a molecular level, say medical experts, this is why hydration is so essential for healing, training and athletic performance. 

“Hydration is important because the body is comprised mostly of water, and the proper balance between water and electrolytes in our bodies really determines how most of our systems function, including nerves and muscles,” said Larry Kenney, PhD, a professor of physiology and kinesiology at Penn State University. 

This, of course, means that whether you’re healing post-injury or post-surgery, or simply recovering from a workout, staying hydrated is critical in your body’s recovery and healing process. 

In addition, studies show those who stay hydrated are generally more alert, have more vibrant skin and have more energy. And some researchers have even shown good hydration is a combatant in two of our nation’s greatest health concerns: heart disease and cancer. 

However, it’s estimated that up to three-quarters of the U.S. population simply doesn’t drink enough water. 

“Even small levels of dehydration can create headaches, lethargy, or just an overall lack of alertness,” said Dr. Susan Shirreffs, an expert on dehydration from the Biomedical Sciences Department at Aberdeen University. 

According to Shirreffs, a reduced intake of fluid in the body caused the volume of your blood to go down, which means there’s not as much available to flow to the heart, brain, muscles and other vital organs. Less blood means less oxygen, which can have an impact on the body’s ability to perform normally. 

So how much water should a person actually drink each day to stay hydrated? It depends on your size and level of activity, but many medical experts have begun to circle around a simple rule of thumb. 

Consuming water equal to one-half of one’s body weight (in ounces) can help alleviate many of the symptoms of dehydration, leading to more energy, more alertness, fewer hunger pangs, and improved healing/recovery. 

This means, for example, that a 150-pound person would require 75 ounces (9 cups) of water per day, a 200-pound person would require 100 ounces (12 ½ cups) of water, and so on. 

Those exercising at a higher intensity will of course need to increase this amount. 

“Water lost during exercise-induced sweating can lead to dehydration,” said W. Larry Kenney, Ph.D., past president of the American College of Sports Medicine. “Even a small amount of dehydration can increase cardiovascular strain and increases the probability for impairing exercise performance and developing heat injury.” 

If you’re struggling to consume enough water each day, or feel that pain or injury may be affecting your ability to exercise and “live life,” your physical therapist can help. Stop in for an evaluation, and a physical therapist can help get your back on track toward his or her movement, performance and life goals.