EVER wondered how often your doctor takes their own advice? Well, a confession – not often!

I find myself - at the end of most consultations - telling my patients to drink more fluids. From feeling tired all the time and sluggish, to dry skin, dizziness, brain fog, constipation and headaches, quite often I discover it’s because people are simply not keeping themselves hydrated.

At home too, I am forever encouraging my kids to drink more water but I realised recently that I have not been taking my own advice and it made me pause to try understand why!

As a society, we are programmed to just go go go all the time. We associate comfort breaks with cups of tea, wake up calls to be accompanied with coffee and thirst to be confused with hunger where instead of taking a sip of water, we snack! As a busy working mum of two, my days are hectic. I rush from one job or role to the next and before I know it, day goes into night and self-care can quickly go neglected. For many, self-care is seen as spa days or holidays which are also valid but basic self-care - that I advocate to anyone who will listen - is in the little things; water being one!

Our bodies are made up predominantly of water which is essential for many vital processes including the effective running of our cardiovascular systems, the detoxing of our kidneys, keeping our bowels in ticking order, lubricating our joints and eyes and even giving us lovely glowing skin! Water for us is essential but how many of you (and I admit I’m also guilty!) are getting your daily allowance of around 2litres a day?

No matter how old you are, everyone needs to know about and be more conscious about how much fluid they take in every day. People assume dehydration involves being poorly and needing IV fluids in hospital when in actual fact chronic dehydration manifests in ways I mentioned above and can also be a contributing factor to urinary tract infections and kidney stones developing.

A month ago I spoke to a patient who was having daily headaches and feeling lightheaded. I explored their lifestyle. I discovered that their only source of fluid was 6-8 cups of tea a day and a cup of coffee in the morning. They sometimes ate fruit which contributes a touch towards daily fluid intake, but otherwise they never drank anywhere near what they should be. I recommended a trial of aiming for slightly less caffeine and attempts to drinking just a litre of water a day to begin with. “I’ll try anything!” they said. I reviewed them this week to see how they were getting on and the headaches had disappeared. Whilst headaches can often be quite complex to manage, sometimes we do need to go back to basics and review our lifestyles – is there any little tweak or intervention you can make that can help improve your health? Drinking more water is definitely an easy habit to create.

This case inspired me to take action myself because as I said, we doctors are great at dishing out the advice, but can sometimes fail to practice what we preach too! I definitely have been guilty of having more coffee to power me through my sleep deprived existence at the moment (thanks to my toddler!) Also I have realised that in my busy days, I just forget to drink water! It’s as simple as that.

The other common mistake we all make is that we confuse thirst with hunger and so end up snacking when in fact we should drink a glass of water and then assess how hungry we feel! A little hack which might also help curb cravings for snacks too.

Children and young people are usually most at risk of forgetting to drink and so require adults to encourage them. Elderly people on the other hand don’t drink as much as they should as I often hear them having cups of tea, thinking this all counts as adequate hydration. Pregnant and breastfeeding people require extra fluids as do athletes, so really – we can all do better.

Some of my patients say, “but I don’t like water!” That’s ok because the good news is that most drinks will help to promote hydration. Whilst water is the best and remember you can infuse it with fruits or sugar free squash/sparkling water, milk, coffee, tea, fruit juice and soft drinks all count too. Moderation of these latter ones however is important.

I am terrible at remembering to drink and so I bought myself a cheap water bottle with time markings on it, prompting me to drink and be accountable at the end of the day! I did great the first day and felt great for it too. I have set myself a 30 day challenge to create a better habit of drinking more water because that’s how long it takes for habits to form and I encourage you to consider doing it for yourself too. It’s a small change but as all the evidence points out, staying hydrated is good for us physically and mentally, and where water is free and readily available, there really is no excuse not to do it!