The Dangers of Winter Dehydration


In 2016 Henry Worsley attempted to become the first solo explorer to cross Antarctica.  He battled temperatures reaching 44 degrees below zero. He came close to accomplishing his goal but, met his demise just miles before the finish line. The cause of his death was not starvation or hypothermia as you may be thinking; it was dehydration.

You do not have to be an extreme explorer like Mr. Worsley to suffer from cold weather dehydration. Soaring summer temperatures grant us a constant reminder to drink water. Our chilly winter days are absent these life-saving cues. As temperatures drop our instinct to drink diminishes leaving us susceptible to dehydration. Not to mention that the idea of a cold gulp pf anything is far from appealing when we are already freezing. Our inclination is to turn to warm drinks such as coffee or tea which can further dehydrate our systems.

man walking in winter

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Winter air is also drier than other times of the year. Add in a little artificial heating, and cracked, chapped skin begins to ensue. If the air we are breathing has that effect on the outside of our bodies imagine what it is doing on the inside. Our lungs add humidity back to the air as we breathe but, in these conditions, they have to work harder to do so.

Activities outdoors such as skiing, sledding or any sweaty training add insult to cold weather injury. Sweat evaporates quickly in the chilly air leaving your body to put in double time to naturally cool your skin. This phenomenon can quickly accelerate the dehydration process.

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The symptoms of dehydration vary from very mild to life-threatening and can present themselves differently in children and adults.

Signs of dehydration in children:

  • Dry crying (no tears)
  • Dry diaper for an extended period (3+ hours)
  • A sunken appearance in the eye area
  • A soft spot on the top of the head
  • A lack of moisture in the mouth and on the tongue
  • General irritability

Signs of dehydration in adults:

  • Thirst
  • Dark colored or infrequent urine
  • Lethargy
  • Dizzy spells
  • A feeling of confusion

These warning signs can easily be ignored or blamed on other causes. You may not even feel thirsty when dehydration begins instead lethargy may set it first. Perhaps you will feel only a little sluggish or tired. Your body will also become more susceptible to a cold or the flu. Since the warning signs are not overtly evident, it is vital to be proactive to maintain proper water intake during cold weather months.

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Tips for maintaining proper winter hydration:

  • Drink at least half your body weight in ounces (example: 120 lbs. = 60 oz.) per day and adjust based on your activity level.
  • Drink before, during, and after exercise.
  • If cold water is not appealing, try it room temperature.
  • Try infusing your water with fruits for a flavor boost.
  • Always have a bottle with you.
  • Have a water cooler in your home and office for easy access.

The benefits of drinking plenty of water in cold weather are endless. Dry, itchy skin will be diminished, your immune system will be boosted, and your energy level will increase. Don’t forget that water also increases your metabolism helping you keep those January resolutions.

You don’t have to be extreme like Henry Worsley to be severely affected by dehydration in the winter. Assure that you are caring for your body in the best and probably the simplest way this season by drinking plenty of water.

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