Aug. 1 was a busy day around our house. Backpacks needed to be loaded up, breakfasts consumed, pictures taken, and shoes tied tightly before the bus arrived. Yes, it was the first day of school. (I could talk about how ridiculous it is for kids to be going back to school a full month before Labor Day, but that’s fodder for another column.)
Well, in all that running around and memory making, I forgot to do something very essential for my health — drink fluids. I might have sucked down a cup of coffee with my breakfast. I honestly can’t remember, but what I do recall is that by 10:30 a.m., I was absolutely, positively, 100 percent brain-dead. I couldn’t think clearly, and I had trouble processing what I read and heard. I couldn’t remember my computer’s password. At first, I assumed it had to be brain fog and told myself, “Eh, chill out. This is what it is to live with multiple sclerosis.”
But then I came across a piece on NPR that had been broadcast on “Morning Edition” the previous day. The title? “Off your mental game? You could be dehydrated.” Naturally, I clicked through for a read.
According to the article, which cited research from a variety of clinical studies, doctors found that being mildly dehydrated — just 1 to 2 percent, in fact — made it much harder to “do as well on tasks that require complex processing or on tasks that require a lot of … attention.”
It makes sense. Our brains are approximately 90 percent water, and that’s why it’s one of the first organs to show signs of dehydration. It’s also one of the first to rebound once we’ve gotten enough water flowing through us. According to an article published by the BBC, 447 students from the University of East London entered an exam hall, and only about a quarter of them brought a bottle of water. However, those students also scored 5 percent higher than their non-hydrated counterparts on the test.
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“Future research is needed to tease apart these explanations,” according to Dr. Chris Pawson, “but whatever the explanation it is clear that students should endeavour to stay hydrated with water during exams.”
So, how much water should we put away each day? According to NPR, “a panel of scholars convened several years ago by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine concluded that women should consume, on average, about 91 oz. of total water per day. For men, the suggested level is even higher (125 oz.).”
Now, some of that can come from food — fruits and vegetables especially — but that still means we need to be taking down a couple of Nalgene bottles every day. One way to get it done? Make it fun. I put a little sticker on each page of my daily planner to keep track of how much water I’ve consumed. It may seem childish, but I love checking things off to do lists, so it’s a natural win for me.
I also found a bottle I really liked at Powell’s Bookstore in Portland. It’s literary-themed, so rather than ounces, it measures in “word count.” Tolstoy is up there at 32 oz., and Toni Morrison is down the list at 4 oz. If words ain’t your thing, they also have bottles for math, philosophy, and art fans. There’s even a green science-fiction themed one that glows in the dark. For me, the bottle is a fun conversation starter, which makes me want to carry it everywhere. And when I do, well, I drink a lot more than I would otherwise.
Since the crazy day a few weeks back, I’ve been intentionally trying to drink at least 64 oz. of water when I’m at work. And I have to say that it does help. I feel sharper, more focused, and more energetic. It’s a simple thing I can do to keep myself healthy and on top of my game, and when it comes to MS, every little advantage counts. So yes, take your meds, get plenty of rest and exercise, make good choices at mealtime, and make sure that water is on the to-do list all day long.
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