With the hottest days of summer still ahead of us, it's even more important to stay hydrated -- heat, humidity and sweat often drain your body of important fluids quicker than you realize.
But it's possible to overdo it, especially during exercise, if you don't listen to your body's signals. You can suffer from hyponatremia, a condition in which sodium levels in your blood reach dangerously low levels due to over-hydration. Also known as "water intoxication," the drop in sodium during or up to 24 hours after physical activity can cause the body's water levels to rise and the cells to swell.
Hyponatremia can be challenging to catch early due to a lack of mild symptoms, making it even more important to understand how to hydrate properly. When symptoms do finally present themselves, they can include headache, vomiting, and confusion or seizures due to swelling in the brain. In rare cases, it can even be fatal.
Luckily, hyponatremia is easy to prevent: just follow your thirst.
According to an updated consensus statement on exercise-associated hyponatremia in the June issue of the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, it's best to manage water intake by simply drinking when you feel thirsty. Their findings are relevant not just to endurance athletes but recreational exercisers -- that means you, summer cyclists and beach volleyballers -- as well.
"Using the innate thirst mechanism to guide fluid consumption is a strategy that should limit drinking in excess and developing hyponatremia," read the new report, which was developed at the 3rd International Exercise-Associated Hyponatremia Consensus Development Conference this year.
Aside from gauging thirst, one of the best ways to judge your hydration levels is by the color of your urine (kind of gross, we know, but medically accurate and extremely important during this time of year). Lawrence Armstrong, an exercise physiologist and professor at the University of Connecticut's Human Performance Laboratory, established a urine color chart to depict dehydration levels as accurately as possible. Armstrong does not publish his chart online, but others like the New York Times and the Boy Scouts of America share their versions of the information digitally.
Curious about the health of your current hydration level? Check out the slideshow below based on the urine color chart from the Boy Scouts of America. You want to aim for the color of lemonade, which is the equivalent of the 1-3 color range. (Note: This slideshow is not for clinical use, but can be used as a basic guideline.)