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How nurses can stay hydrated (and the health benefits of H2O)

LONDON - AUGUST 11: A glass of water is filled at a kitchen tap on August 11, 2008 in London, England. Thames Water bills are expected to have an annual rise of 3 percent more than inflation as water companies submit predicted finance plans for 2010 to 2015. (Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

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As a nurse, you match symptoms to ailments for patients all day long, but you might be missing one that's occurring right in your own body: dehydration. When you don't drink enough water, the effects are widespread and all negative, from fuzzy thinking to the joint and muscle pain that accompanies even mild dehydration. That can segue into other ailments, like constipation and headaches, all of them the opposite of what nurses need to feel good and do a good job.

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But unlike the patients you advise, as a nurse, you may not be in control of your bathroom breaks, and it's easy to forget to pause and drink water. Staying hydrated is a balancing act, for sure, but it's also very important.

"I can't think of any one thing that can impede your performance quicker than being dehydrated," noted Robert Dothard, a professional trainer who particularly focuses on making fitness welcome to families and clients ages 35-60 at Fit Family Smyrna. "In the medical field, where you're making crucial decisions constantly and even some that are 'life and death,' being in top mental and physical condition is critical. And drinking enough water can definitely help."

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Maintaining an optimal level of hydration can even help you avoid heart attacks and strokes; both are more likely if your blood is too thick because you don't drink enough water, according to the National Jewish Health Organization.

To get on the right side of the water equation, try these tips:

Beware of dark yellow or strongly-scented urine. Here's one area where nurses have a one-up on maintaining healthy hydration levels. Because of your job duties, it probably won't seem odd to keep tabs on the color of your urine. "The number of cups you drink isn't the deciding factor when it comes to hydration status," Jenny Askew, MS, RD, LD, ACSM EP-C told the AJC. "If you are well hydrated, the most reliable indicator is your urine, which should be clear and odorless."

If your urine starts becoming a progressively darker shade of yellow or you notice the smell is strong, you probably aren't drinking enough water, explained Askew, who counsels patients at Balance Fitness and Nutrition in Alpharetta. "Of course, other factors can affect the color of your urine, too, such as medications, vitamins and certain foods. Keep them in mind as well," she added.

Set your own optimal amount. How much water you'll need to stay hydrated varies by your height and weight and how active you are, according to Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation cardiac clinical nurse specialist Alice Benjamin. An ER nurse may need more water than, say, an IT nurse who stays mostly at her desk, for example. In general, said Benjamin, "focus on staying hydrated by drinking water often instead of stressing about how many ounces you're sipping."

Drink before you feel thirsty. Counterintuitive, certainly. But if you're thirsty, you're probably already dehydrated and may be on your way to a headache. "Stave off thirst by drinking water even when you're not parched," Benjamin added.

Take your water bottle wherever you go. As a former trainer on "Biggest Loser" and the creator of Total Body Workout DVDs, Dothard emphasized the importance of keeping a water bottle at the ready, at work, in the car, at lunch. "It will remind you to stay hydrated," he said. At the same time, if you've got water handy, you have no reason to pick up a dehydrating latte or soda because you're 'thirsty.'

Surprised that none of the fitness experts mentioned drinking water as an appetite suppressant? That's because the idea you should drink water when you're hungry is one of the many H2O health myths. As the editors of Fitness explained, just drinking extra water doesn't make you lose weight. "You may eat less, because you're too busy trucking back and forth between the bathroom and dinner table," they said. "But that's about it."

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