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5 Most Surprising Reasons to Drink Water

By , Caring.com senior editor
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Of all the food and beverage choices you face every day, what's calorie-free, virtually cost-free, and, oh yes, essential to keeping you alive? Plain ol' water. But those aren't the only reasons to drink it.

"Water drives basic body performance," says Beth Reardon, director of nutrition for Duke Integrative Medicine, part of the Duke University Health System. "All of the systems in the body require water for proper functioning, and so do 90 percent of all chemical reactions in the body."

Here are five surprising reasons to quench your thirst with water:

1. It will help you de-stress.

Why: Being sure to sip water throughout a stressful day can soothe stress-induced symptoms as diverse as headaches, tense muscles, fuzzy thinking, a pounding heart, and low energy. That's because stress taxes all your basic body systems -- and when you're dehydrated, the effects are magnified.

Given that more than half your body weight is water, Reardon says, "just a 2-percent reduction in hydration has a dramatic impact on energy levels and cognitive function." And dehydration further raises levels of cortisol -- the "stress hormone."

Water won't wash your stressors away. But it can provide you with more energy, ease tension, slow breathing, and reduce the strain on your heart.

Water-drinking tip: "Eight by eight -- eight 8-ounce glasses a day -- is a good general rule of thumb," Reardon says, "but it's a myth that's the magic amount for everyone, because there are so many variables." The "right" amount for you depends on factors including your age, your activity level, your health level, medications you're taking, and the weather. So how do you know if you're drinking enough? Follow your thirst, and know that you're on the right track if you have straw-colored urine, Reardon says.

2. You'll lose weight.

Why: In a 2010 study of adults aged 55 to 75, drinking two 8-ounce glasses of water before meals was associated with almost four pounds more weight loss in 12 weeks than in a control group who ate a similar diet but didn't have the pre-meal H20. Participants drank an average of 1.5 cups of water a day before the study.

In part, the Virginia Tech researchers say, water is filling, so you feel fuller and eat less. An earlier study found those who drink water before meals consume an average of 75 fewer calories per meal. (Make that twice a day over a year, and that could add up to 14 pounds!) The Virginia Tech scientists also believe the water drinkers began swapping this zero-calorie beverage for sodas and other caloric beverages.

What's more, when you're well hydrated, your body is working closer to maximum efficiency -- enhancing aspects of weight loss, like digestion and muscle function, when you exercise.

Water-drinking tip: For variety's sake, try flavoring your water. Drop some fruit into a pitcher and let it sit a few minutes -- lemons, oranges, watermelon, and berries all work well. Or let an herbal or flavored green tea bag steep in unheated water to accent the taste.