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8 glasses of water a day? It’s just a myth

You’ve heard it over and over again: Drink eight, 8-ounce glasses of water a day to stay hydrated and healthy. It’s true that you need to stay hydrated, but the idea of 64 ounces of water a day is actually a myth.

Glass of waterGuidelines for water consumption first appeared in the U.S. in 1945, when the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences recommended the consumption of 2.5 liters of water per day. Frederick J. Stare, an influential 21st century nutritionist who defined the four food groups, was one of the first to recommend that humans consume six or so 12-ounce glasses of water a day.

But actual water isn’t always necessary. Your foods contain plenty of it. For example, a baked potato is 75 percent water. Other beverages, such as juice and milk, also count towards your total.

And yes, caffeinated beverages also count, according to Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, a nephrologist at the University of Pennsylvania who reviewed research claims on drinking eight glasses of water and studied how the kidneys handle it.

Two good ways to determine whether you’re getting enough hydration are simple and common. Runner’s World magazine says thirst is a good indicator: if you’re thirsty, drink something. Runner’s World also suggests that you check the color of your urine. If it’s clear or light yellow, you’re fine; if it’s the color of apple juice or darker, you need to drink something — especially if you’re involved in endurance activities such as running a race.

Experts at the Mayo Clinic list four factors that influence your need for additional fluids:

  • Exercising so hard that you sweat.
  • Environment, such as hot or humid weather or high altitude.
  • Illness or health conditions, such as fever, vomiting or diarrhea.
  • Pregnancy or breast feeding.

Other myths debunked by Runner’s World:

Plain water is best. If you’re involved in intense activity on a hot day, you may need a sports drink that has electrolytes and sodium to fully replenish your system.

You can “detox” your body by drinking lots of water. Dr. Goldfarb says, “There is no evidence that excess water makes your body more clean. If anything, drinking too much water can slightly impair the ability of the kidneys to filter blood.”

You can’t drink too much. It’s rare, but yes, you can. Too much water can cause symptomatic hyponatremia, a condition where the sodium levels in the blood become dangerously low.



Too much running may hurt in the long run

Running to get fit or stay healthy is good. But running too many miles or too many marathons may be too much of a good thing.

CNN reports that runners who average more than 20 miles a week do not have a longer lifespan, according to research presented March 30 at the annual American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions in Washington. In fact, these runners live about as long as those who don’t run at all.

Researchers don’t know yet why this happens. The study’s original goal was to determine if runners’ use of NSAID painkillers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, had an affect on their longevity. Runners also gave information about risk factors such as diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

“Our study didn’t find any differences that could explain these longevity differences,” said Dr. Martin Matsumura, co-director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the Lehigh Valley Health Network in Allentown, Pa. “The study negates the theory that excessive use of NSAIDs may be causing this loss of longevity among high-mileage runners.”

According to CNN, a 2012 study from the Mayo Clinic found that excessive training can cause cardiovascular damage such as scarring and enlargement of the heart and blood vessels.

“You can do light to moderate exercise as long as you want. We’re genetically designed for that kind of activity,” Dr. James O’Keefe, a cardiologist at the Mid America Heart Institute, told CNN at the time. “We’re just not designed to run 26 miles at a time, or 100, or go on a full-distance triathlon for 12 hours as hard as you can go.”

The shortened lifespans for long-distance runners could come from too much “wear and tear” on the hear, Dr. O’Keefe said this week. Extreme exercise may actually create a “remodeling” of the heart, which could negate some of the benefits of working out.

O’Keefe recommends that those who run for health benefits maintain a slow to moderate pace, about two or three times per week, for a total of one to 2.5 hours.

“If you want to run a marathon,” he said, “run one and cross it off your bucket list.”