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Not Drinking Enough Water May Shorten Your Life, Says New Research

Dehydration can lead to chronic disease and a shorter lifespan, according to a new study.
FACT CHECKED BY Jordan Powers Willard

Aging is inevitable—at least until someone eventually discovers the Fountain of Youth. In the meantime, researchers are devoting their efforts to finding ways we can slow aging and learning about the habits that may actually speed up the natural aging process. In fact, new research from the Lancet assessing how normal to high sodium blood tests as a potential indicator of accelerated biological aging, chronic health conditions, and premature death in middle-aged individuals suggests that dehydration can possibly contribute to ending your life too soon.

Common chronic conditions that have been historically associated with aging include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, hypertension, osteoporosis, dementia, and Alzheimer's disease. However, getting older is not necessarily the only prerequisite to developing these health conditions, and there are many other factors that can elevate your risk for their onset, too. According to the CDC, your risk of developing these medical conditions can increase based on factors like excessive alcohol consumption, tobacco use, lack of physical movement, and poor diet.

However, having a better understanding of how our habits and what we consume affects our health—even possibly lengthening or shortening our lifespan—is a great step toward proactive self-care that can lead to living a healthy existence, starting with the latest research emphasizing the importance of hydration. Read on to learn more about these new findings, and for more tips on healthy aging, check out 5 Coffee Habits That May Be Shortening Your Life.

What the study reveals about the link between dehydration & aging

sparkling water with lime

In the new study published by the Lancet, researchers wanted to test the hypothesis that staying hydrated might deter and slow down the aging process. Although this research was partially motivated by prior studies on rodents that noted connections between water restriction and a shorter life, this particular one was conducted with adult humans participants between the ages of 45–66.

To better understand researchers' findings on the connection between hydration and aging, we must first look into their methods for measuring a person's hydration. A serum sodium test was used to determine a person's hydration, which is a way to see how much sodium is in someone's blood. Because sodium is an electrolyte that can help balance out your body's fluids, this test is a common way to see if someone is dehydrated. According to the Mayo Clinic, a normal sodium level in a person's blood is between 135–145 milliequivalent (or millimoles) per liter.

Interestingly enough, even though that is known as the normal range for sodium levels in the blood, the study found that sodium levels of 142 millimoles per liter or more were associated with a 39% increase in risk of chronic disease, and levels higher than 144 millimoles per liter were associated with a 21% increased risk of premature mortality. Researchers note that these findings mean that those with serum sodium levels of 142 mmol/l or higher have a greater chance of dying younger or developing a chronic disease. In other words, being chronically dehydrated may absolutely shorten your lifespan.

What does this mean for your daily life?
mature athletic woman drinking water bottle

The Lancet's findings make it apparent that maintaining hydration is crucial to healthy aging and your overall wellbeing, and consistent dehydration can shorten your life. While being hydrated isn't enough on its own to ensure a healthy life, it's a great (and relatively easy) place to start.

Unless your doctor asks you to take a serum sodium test, it's difficult to know exactly how hydrated you are. Furthermore, there are no hard rules or guidelines that explicitly lay out how much water is recommended to drink each day. The CDC says there is no recommendation for how much plain water someone should drink, but everyone should be getting fluid through food and beverages, while other experts recommend drinking at least six to eight cups of water per day. Meanwhile, the National Academies for Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine says 15.5 cups of fluid per day for men and 11.5 cups a day for women.

The best solution to maintain optimal daily hydration is to consistently drink plenty of water and fluids throughout the day, especially if you're regularly active. However, if you're still concerned about your ability to sustain hydration throughout the day and suspect your body is operating while dehydrated more often than not, talk to your doctor about effective strategies to ensure you remain healthily hydrated throughout the day.

Samantha Boesch
Samantha was born and raised in Orlando, Florida and now works as a writer in Brooklyn, NY. Read more about Samantha
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