Thursday, December 1, 2016

Winter Hydration

Even though it is still officially autumn for a few more weeks, we all know that winter is just around the corner. While most of us pay attention to our water intake during the summer, it is just as important to manage hydration during the cold season as well.

Dry sinuses are one of the reasons colds and flu are more prevalent during the winter than the summer -- humidity levels in the air drop with the cold weather, making our mucus membranes work harder to stay moist, and
bacteria and viruses aren't being trapped in mucus and eliminated from the body. Drinking plenty of water will help replace the moisture lost through sneezing and expectorating phlegm.

Water will also replace moisture lost from exhalation as your body tries to warm and moisten the air before it hits your lungs. That's part of the reason our sinuses are so convoluted; it gives air time to warm up before it reaches our lungs. Breathing through your mouth won't help retain water any better; your lungs are moist and you'll still lose water as you exhale.

Drink Warm Things
Cold weather can also reduce the urge to drink, especially if the only available liquids are cold. Warm (room or body temperature) liquids will help maintain your body's thermostat. Hot liquids are good for boosting morale, since they tend to raise core temperature a bit and help relieve the piercing cold some of us deal with. 

Keeping your canteen or water bladder inside your clothes will prevent it from freezing and keep the water warm at the same time. Metal canteens can also be warmed by placing near a fire, but that doesn't work very well with plastic containers. 

Finally, check your water filters for winter storage requirements. Once a filter is used it will retain some water, and if that water freezes it will likely damage the internal parts of your filter. I keep mine on a cord around my neck and inside my jacket when I carry one during the winter.

Be Careful With What You Drink
Caffeine and alcohol are poor choices in cold weather, since they are both diuretics (they make you urinate more often) and will lead to a net loss of water in the body. Their stimulant and depressant effects are routine, and most people like their routines, but there are a wide variety of teas and infusions (made by steeping leaves in hot water) that are better suited to winter.

My personal favorite is rose hip tea. Wild roses are our state flower, and they grow like weeds. The “fruit” of a rose is a small berry that appears under the blossom and is known as a rose “hip”. Split it open and scrape out the seeds, then soak the hips in hot water for a while; the tea has a decent flavor and is high in Vitamin C, which I consider a bonus.

Look around your area and ask some of the more “back to basics” types about a good, local substitute for commercial teas and coffee.

Don't Eat Snow
Melt it and drink the water so your body doesn't have to waste the calories to do the melting once it is inside you. Munching on a snow-cone during the summer is a great way to col off, so why would you want to cool off if you're surrounded by snow? If someone asks I'll explain the physics involved, but just melting ice takes a lot of energy compared to warming the resulting water.

How Much Should You Drink?
Just like in the summer, you need to be taking more water in than you are losing through evaporation (sweating and breathing). Also like in summer, you can monitor your hydration level by observing the color of your urine. I covered the color spectrum of urine in a post about rehydration a while back; it's actually a little easier to check if you have snow on the ground.

When I was in the Army, NCO's (sergeant and above) were taught that the best way to oversee your troops' hydration level in the winter while in the field was to establish a “pee tree”: all of the guys urinated against one tree, so the sergeant could tell by a glance at the snow if any of his troops needed to be reminded to drink more often. Ladies, you'll have to come up with something similar on your own; w didn't have many females in my unit, and damn few of them went to the field with us.

You may not need a gallon a day, but you still need to drink water all winter long. Watch yourself and your tribe to make sure everyone is getting enough water to stay healthy. 

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