You’ve probably read it somewhere- we need to be drinking 8 glasses of water a day for your body to be properly hydrated and stay in tip top shape.
I recently learned that there’s no science behind that at all. In fact, there is not a single study that has ever claimed (let alone shown) that you should drink 8 glasses of water a day.
But how much water do we need to drink, then? It might surprise you, but the best answer is to simply drink when you’re thirsty.
I mean, it makes sense. Animals and humans have been doing it that way for millions of years. And considering 99% of the U.S. has access to clean drinking water, it shouldn’t be an issue to continue that trend.
But it is. Sometimes, we don’t drink when we’re thirsty. This can happen if we’re ignoring ourselves, and focusing too hard on the external world.
Interesting side note: drinking extra water has not been scientifically proven to render any additional health benefits at all, which might be surprising due to so many people on blogs and social media attributing their healthy-looking skin to proper hydration.
So what’s the moral here? Simply put, our bodies are often smarter than our minds, and are therefore more deserving of our attention than we think. Millions of years of biology might know best, even over certain studies and aspects of our culture.
There are also biological explanations for things that we might not fully understand in our present-day cultural context. Let’s take stress for example:
We generally take signs of stress (heart pounding, faster breathing, breaking out into a sweat) as a negative reaction to a situation. But what if you viewed those symptoms as not only reasonable, but a positive reaction?
That pounding heart? Preparing you for action. Your faster breathing? Improving the oxygen flow to your brain. Sweaty hands and/or feet? Well, that’s a fight or flight thing. It wouldn’t help you during a math test or a presentation for work, but it doesn’t hurt to know that it also shares a biological origin.
This study shows that everyone who viewed stress as a helpful thing were less likely to die prematurely than those who viewed it negatively, including those who experienced relatively little stress. Their cardiovascular profile was also better, and bared a similar resemblance to hearts in moments of courage.
“This one biological change could be the difference between a stress-induced heart attack at age fifty, or living well into your nineties.”
The above quote is from Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist with an insightful (and much more in-depth) TED Talk on this subject.
Her bottom line is simple: If you view stress as your body’s way of rising to meet a challenge, your stress response becomes healthier.
Here’s one more instance that shows you should listen to your body: gut instincts. Though your gut (sometimes referred to as the “second brain”) doesn’t help you with complicated thought processes, it can regularly affect your mood, emotions, immune system, and long-term health.
There’s more work put into that “gut feeling” than you may think, too. Our gut is equipped with its own nervous system, reflexes and senses and all. There are also hundreds of millions of neurons that connect the gut directly to the brain. Because of this, it can both send signals and work independently.
The main drawback, though, is that the gut draws these signals from memories and experiences- so though it may be spot on if you “just don’t feel right” about something, cognitive biases can occasionally blur and misconceive certain feelings.
All in all, though, it’s good advice when someone tells you to “trust in your gut.” It’s usually right. Your instincts do a remarkably effective job at picking up subconscious signals and telling you when something may be amiss.
It’s just important to take the time to let it.
We sometimes fear “pauses” in our lives, using smartphones and other technology as a crutch in order to fill these gaps. But those gaps don’t need filling. They can keep us from feeling too busy with our daily lives, and overlooking any signals our body is sending to us.
It’s important to be able to reflect on your current situation, and it’s okay to take a few moments (along with some deep breaths) and figure out what to do next.
A few final takeaways:
Just drink when you’re thirsty.
Stress is harmful, but only if you view it that way.
Trust in your gut.
It’s important to slow down and listen to your body at a few points throughout the day, so that you can pick up on anything it might be telling you- from “Hey, I’m thirsty” to “That man looks like two kids in a trench coat.”2