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Credit: Design elements: Tima Miroshnichenko/Pexels and Getty Images. Collage: Cassie Basford.

When was the last time you refilled that water pitcher or bottle, or cracked open a can of sparkling water? (Yep, fizzy water, coffee and tea all count toward your hydration goal, BTW!) A whopping 43% of Americans drink 3 cups, or 24 ounces, of water or less each day, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates.

Since water makes up about 60% of our body mass, that's certainly not doing our well-being any favors. (ICYMI, the health benefits of water go far beyond simply quenching thirst). And a new study published January 2 in the journal eBioMedicine says the impacts of sipping on enough H2O may make even more of an impact than we previously realized. Adults who are well-hydrated tend to live longer, healthier lives and develop fewer chronic conditions, including heart and lung disease, than their peers who are parched, according to a National Institutes of Health study published January 2 in the journal eBioMedicine.

Read on to learn more about these new findings, plus more about why proper hydration is connected to a longer, more vital life. 

What This Hydration Study Found

The researchers from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) already knew that when fluid intake decreases, serum sodium levels increase. That makes sense: With less dilution, the ratio of sodium in our blood makes up a larger piece of the pie. 

Taking that into account, and noting a March 2022 study that revealed a link between higher-than-normal serum sodium and higher risk for heart failure, the scientists involved in this new research analyzed 30 years of data from 11,255 adults to dive into how higher serum sodium levels impact health over the long term. They looked at results from five medical visits for each participant; the first two during their 50s and the last between age 70 and 90. To set an even foundation at baseline, the scientists excluded anyone who had high serum sodium levels at baseline or anyone with a preexisting condition that might predispose them for altered serum sodium levels. They also took into account and adjusted for other potentially important factors that might impact the results, such as age, race, gender identity, smoking status and whether or not they had high blood pressure.  

Using those medical check-up results and taking a peek at 15 health biometrics—including systolic blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar—the researchers aimed to zoom in on how well each person's cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic, renal and immune system was working. 

Turns out, adults with higher levels of sodium in the blood (135-146 milliequivalents per liter, or mEq/L) were up to 50% more likely to show signs of advanced aging sooner than those with serum sodium levels in the low to medium range. The metabolism, lungs, cardiovascular system and inflammation alterations made these individuals appear to be "older" than they were biologically. Individuals in the highest blood sodium crowd were also about 64% more likely to develop a chronic disease (such as heart failure, type 2 diabetes or dementia) and seemed to be more likely to die at a younger age.

"On the global level, this can have a big impact...decreased body water content is the most common factor that increases serum sodium, which is why the results suggest that staying well hydrated may slow down the aging process and prevent or delay chronic disease," Natalia Dmitrieva, Ph.D., study author and researcher in the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), says in a news release about the findings.         

The Bottom Line  

Staying hydrated is not only great for your skin and energy levels, but also for your longevity and disease risk profile, this new study suggests. It's too early to say if this link is causal, though, so more research is needed—on a larger, diverse, randomized and controlled pool of participants—to confirm if water intake really does lead to better health outcomes and a longevity boost. There might be other health factors at play.

Until we learn more, it certainly can't hurt to get a refresher on our hydration goals—and step things up if you find yourself among the four in 10 Americans who are drinking those 3 cups…which is far below the recommended H2O levels. The National Academies of Medicine recommends that women consume 6 to 9 cups of fluid each day; men should aim for 8 to 12 cups. While regular water is the most efficient source, water-rich foods and other liquids, like juices, java, tea and smoothies, certainly add up as well.

Just remember that balance here is key, as is true with many things in the nutrition space. You can drink too much water, which, in severe cases, can lead to electrolyte imbalances, nausea, vomiting and more. Try to tune into your body's cues and drink when you're thirsty, and fill in any gaps to meet the recommended minimums. An easy way to check hydration levels? Your urine color—aim for clear to straw-colored, and try to sip more if your pee looks darker yellow to amber in hue, the Cleveland Clinic suggests.