Our new Wellness platform & incentive program is off to a great start! Many of you have joined this month’s Montana Meals Drink (Water) & Be Merry challenge on the platform & it’s great to see you using this tool to track your water intake. As a reminder, while only employees have access to the online platform at this time, spouses and adult dependents over 18 can still participate in and win prizes for the Montana Moves & Montana Meals Challenges of the Month! All of our other Wellness programs including Take Control, Ask-an–Expert, webinars and workshops, will continue to be free and available to spouses and adult dependents on the MUS insurance plan as well. So, if you are an employee, please encourage your spouse to get or to stay involved!
When this month’s challenge was announced, I included the following statement in the challenge description, “Coffee and tea are not dehydrating as once believed, but water is still your best drink option!” I got an email response from someone wondering then, if coffee and tea are non-dehydrating as once believed, why are caffeinated beverages not recommended?
First, unless someone is sensitive to the effects of caffeine, I don’t necessarily discourage caffeinated beverages. Numerous studies suggest benefits to caffeine including decreased risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, diabetes, and certain types of cancers. Most of the studies look at coffee consumption specifically, and the association is strongest for people drinking 3-5 cups per day. 3 cups per day is usually considered moderate intake.
However, caffeine can significantly disrupt sleep, so according to the National Sleep Foundation, it’s best to stop drinking caffeinated beverages 4-6 hours before bedtime. In addition, too much caffeine can make you jittery, cause headaches, and be habit-forming.
In terms of hydration, caffeine itself is a diuretic, which means it causes your body to lose fluid through increased urination. If you were taking straight caffeine pills, and not replacing the lost fluid, dehydration could become an issue. But, if you take that caffeine in tea or coffee, the fluid helps make up for caffeine’s diuretic effect. And, if you are accustomed to drinking coffee, studies show that your body will actually adapt to minimize the diuretic effect as well. Some experts have said that drinking a 12 oz cup of coffee when you are used to caffeine is about equivalent, in terms of hydration, to drinking an 8 oz glass of water. (But note that for this month’s challenge, water is still the only beverage that counts!)
Another issue that comes up with caffeinated beverages is that unless you drink your coffee or tea black, you might be getting a hefty serving of sugar along with the caffeine. Other caffeine and sugar-containing beverages like Mountain Dew, Coke, Starbucks Frappucinos, etc., or even a handful of sugar packets added to your brewed coffee, can provide hundreds of calories from straight refined sugar. In short, water is still best!
One other note about this month’s challenge: Water needs vary significantly by the individual, and also depend on activity level and outside temperature. The 8 cups of water (64 oz) per day rule is simply a general recommendation that has existed for decades, and perhaps without much scientific backing. 8 cups might be a little too much for some people, but might not be enough for others. Another general way to estimate the amount you need is to consider drinking half of your weight (in pounds) in ounces of water each day. For example, a 160 lb person could aim to drink 80 oz of water per day. Despite a lack of exact guidelines for amount of water needed each day, there a countless reasons why drinking water remains important for health. Your body is made up of almost 60% water. Water is essential for life and for many functions in the body, including:
- Temperature regulation
- Joint lubrication
- Saliva production
- Kidney and urinary tract health
- Optimal exercise performance (as demonstrated by Neal’s Boston Marathon account)
- Digestion, absorption, and transportation of nutrients
- Weight control
- Healthy skin