Most people already know that water makes up a significant portion of the human body. In fact, up to 60% of the average adult body is made up of water, with many vital organs depending heavily upon adequate hydration. Organs such as the lungs, which are about 83% water, the heart and brain (73% water), and the kidneys and muscles (79% water).

With all these vital organs primarily composed of water, it’s easy to see that proper hydration is particularly important when it comes to heart-pumping exercise. At Cawley Physical Therapy, your health is our top priority. That’s why we’ve put together this helpful primer to help you stay active hydrated and happy.

Tis the Season 

Around this time every year, local media typically reports on at least a few high school and/or college athletes who become dehydrated, either during their workout sessions or during a game. One or more players will get sidelined with symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, excessive fatigue, and/or muscle issues such as  

  • Cramps.
  • Muscle tightness.
  • Pain from muscle spasms.

Dehydration and Exercise

Regulation of Body Temperature — Have you ever wondered why you get cramps when exercising? It’s because, when a person exercises, their core body temperature rises. Their temperature will rise even more rapidly if they attempt to exercise in higher temperatures, especially if humidity is present.

As a person’s core body temperature rises, their rate of perspiration increases as well, drawing fluids away from internal organs and other tissues, including the muscles. As vital organs become more dehydrated, the heart rate increases, and it becomes increasingly difficult for the body to keep its core body temperature at a proper level.

This is why even young, healthy adults can quickly become ill from dehydration when performing intense exercise. Muscle cramps are only the beginning; in severe cases, dehydration can lead to heatstroke, which can be life-threatening.

Conversely, if a person is properly hydrated, their heart will be able to pump blood more easily during exercise. This means blood vessels will be able to deliver the water, oxygen, electrolytes, etc., that muscles require to perform their job efficiently.

Sleeping and Cognition — While becoming dehydrated during an intense exercise session is often readily apparent since a person is likely to experience obvious signs of illness, the same cannot be said of milder or chronic cases of dehydration.

A person who is mildly and chronically dehydrated may have difficulty sleeping or increased fatigue during their waking hours. This can occur when dehydration lowers certain amino acids involved in the production of melatonin, a hormone that plays a vital role in a person’s sleep/wake cycle. Even mild, chronic dehydration can cause reduced levels of refreshing sleep. Less sleep can lead to reduced reaction times and, potentially, cognitive impairment of a person’s decision-making abilities.  

How to Stay Well-Hydrated

An Ounce of Prevention — Ideally, a person will prepare themselves months before they know they will be engaging in intense exercise. Trying to play “catch up” by practicing good health habits a week before practice begins is often not enough time for a body to fully benefit from making healthful changes.

Healthy eating makes for a healthy lifestyle. Athletes who want to avoid dehydration should consume a diet that regularly includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables typically contain a higher percentage of water than other foods, helping the body to remain in a well-hydrated state. If an athlete is having trouble sleeping and they don’t know why, it might be a good idea to make an appointment with a medical professional to determine if their lack of sleep is due to dehydration.

During the Exercise Season — Avoid caffeine in coffee, energy drinks, etc., especially around exercise time, since caffeine is a diuretic that draws water from the body. There are electrolyte-infused sports drinks available to drink during exercise, although it’s best to try and stick with sports drinks that are low in sugar. 

If a person begins to experience signs of muscle cramping or spasming, or they develop a headache during exercise, don’t ignore the symptoms and continue to play. Talk to the coach or the medical expert on the field and let them know you aren’t feeling well. If you’re concerned about lasting damage, our sports injury physical therapy services may be able to help.

Cawley Physical Therapy is Here for You

If you have any questions about how hydration or physical therapy can positively affect your sport’s performance, give us a call at 570-208-2787.