Stay Hydrated this Summer

Water bottle

Kate Homonai, OSU Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Vinton County 

My dad tells a story about the summers he spent helping bale hay at his uncle’s farm. He and his cousins would spend hours outside each day, working beneath the hot sun and becoming drenched in sweat. Being teenage boys, they would toss their sweat-soaked t-shirts aside each night and be amused when they tried to put on the now dried and “crispy” clothes again the next morning. As a child, I thought the story was very funny. As an adult, I still smile at their innocent fun, but the Educator in me wants to interject and ask any number of questions, including, “Weren’t you worried about dehydration?!”

Working outside in the summer puts a significant strain on our bodies. When our bodies warm up from physical exertion and the effects of the sun, we begin sweating to help cool off and control internal body temperature. Sweating is obviously an important safety function, but it also uses the same water that our bodies need to perform basic functions like carrying oxygen, balancing chemicals, and clearing waste.  With all that water going out, it is easy to become dehydrated if we aren’t putting enough fluid back into our bodies.

Dehydration can lead to several different health concerns. Minor dehydration can result in symptoms like increased thirst, headaches, or muscle cramps. Severe dehydration can limit your body’s ability to sweat, which could cause you to overheat and experience heat stroke or heat exhaustion. These side effects can be anything from unpleasant to even life-threatening, but there are simple ways to prevent dehydration and stay healthy this summer.

Consider the following tips:

  1. Keep water on hand. You are more likely to drink water if it is easy to access. If you’re working in the shop or barn, fill a large water jug and keep some reusable cups nearby. If you’re working outside or traveling between locations, fill several reusable water bottles and carry them with you in a cooler.   
  2. Schedule breaks. It is easy to get in a groove and work for an extended period without taking a break. Set an alarm, place a notecard in a visible area, or use another effective method to remind yourself to stop and get a drink. 
  3. Limit sodium. Eating foods high in salt can cause your body to draw water from the cells, possibly leading to dehydration. Examples of foods high in sodium include chips, processed meats, and fast food.  
  4. Choose foods with a high water content. Many types of fresh produce are in season right now and make great snacks or meals that add to your total water intake. Choose foods like peaches, melons, peppers, or tomatoes to help you stay hydrated.

Kate Homonai, Family & Consumer Sciences Educator Vinton County, can be reached at 740-596-5212 This column is provided by the OSU Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Team.