More on the dangers of water

August 18, 2018

This has been a topic of other blog posts, but recent developments have really highlighted it. Unfortunately, the message still hasn’t gotten through—witness the recent death of a high school football player from water intoxication. Thus, it bears repeating.

A recent column by an exercise physiologist, Tamara Hew-Butler (, nicely summarizes the points I have been making in recent articles and posts.

The notion that we need to be reminded to drink is hogwash. Evolution has equipped us with an exquisite mechanism to regulate water intake and excretion; thirst is part of this mechanism. Drinking when we are not thirsty to “prevent” dehydration is not only unnecessary, it may be dangerous. Taking in too much water, especially during exercise, may overtax the body’s ability to handle water, resulting in a dangerous disturbances of our salt and water balance. This can result in nervous system injury, including coma and death. It is being recognized more and more during sports (such as marathon running), and as I recently pointed out has even been reported in a hiker.

The role of subtle dehydration in impairing exercise performance has been vastly overstated—partially through the efforts of the sports drink industry. Suffice it to say that the risks of dehydration are significantly less than those of over hydration.

How should the hiker or camper handle water intake? Just be aware of the body’s own signals. Especially during vigorous exercise in warm weather, make sure that you respond to thirst. One of the risks of “slugging through” on a long hike is a lack of sufficient break time to insure that there is ample opportunity for drinking. Just don’t think that because you are at a “water break” you MUST drink!