Aging with Adventure with Eric Weld: To perform best, the body needs proper hydration, nutrition


  • Pat Wheeler and Carol Davis drink water during a break in an exercise class taught by Joan Griswold, a nutrition specialist and certified health coach, at the Chesterfield Senior Center. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Joan Griswold, a nutrition specialist and certified health coach, leads an exercise class at the Chesterfield Senior Center. Left is Carol Davis, Nancy Henshaw, Joan Griswold, and Ron Lavigne. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Joan Griswold, a nutrition specialist and certified health coach, leads an exercise class at the Chesterfield Senior Center. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Bruce Homstead of Easthampton, a registered dietitian from Easthampton, is a strong believer in staying hydrated. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Published: 7/7/2022 4:47:52 PM
Modified: 7/7/2022 4:45:14 PM

Let’s talk about hydration and nutrition. Water, food and other consumables that, every single day of our lives, fuel whatever activities we take on.

That includes any kind of adventure. Because at the root of it, no adventure happens without sufficient sustenance and hydration. Neither does aging.

This is a particularly important topic for those of us pushing 55 years and beyond because as we age, our body’s thirst mechanism begins to weaken. We don’t receive the signals as efficiently that we need to drink. Couple that with our aging bodies’ natural decrease in water composition — our bodies are made up of roughly 70% water, but that diminishes to as little as 50% over time — and it spells trouble.

For those and other reasons, dehydration among older people is all too common, especially for those who regularly consume dehydrating beverages such as coffee, tea, caffeinated soft drinks and alcohol.

Many people aren’t aware that they’re thirsty or getting dehydrated because of the aging body’s inability to detect higher blood salinity. But even slight dehydration can affect one’s metabolism negatively, leading to fatigue and reduced organ performance and athletic ability.

More severe dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion, extreme fatigue, loss of cognitive function, muscle pain, hearing loss and even organ failure.

Water intake

That’s the bad news. The good news is dehydration is not inevitable. In fact, it’s quite simple to avoid.

The solution is water. Lots of it. A good target is to drink at least half of your body weight in ounces of water per day. If you weigh 150 pounds, drink 75 ounces (about 2.5 quarts) of water a day. Two hundred pounds, at least three quarts of water every day.

Drinking lots of water through the day helps boost your metabolism, which can assist with weight loss and increase energy.

Bruce Homstead is a registered dietitian from Easthampton who has coached Olympic and professional athletes on hydration for athletic performance.

“Think of your body like your car,” he suggests — a machine that needs proper fuel to operate optimally. “How does your car work if your radiator leaks or runs low on fluid? If you’re down a quart, your mechanical efficiency goes down dramatically.”

And like a car that can run tens of thousands of miles longer when kept filled with clean oil, Homstead says, the human body is capable of running efficiently for much longer when fed adequate levels of fluid.

“Without proper fluid, the body starts to shut down,” describes Joan Griswold, a nutrition specialist and certified health coach from Chesterfield, who works with elderly people in the Hilltowns.

“It impacts you to the bone. Without proper hydration, you lose energy, you can have cramping, it can impact lucid thinking. And hydration is important for general well-being.”

Beyond water

Water is the key. However, Homstead, Griswold and other experts emphasize, proper hydration and nutrition go beyond just drinking water. It includes a balance of electrolytes, carbohydrates and proteins.

This truth is amplified exponentially for older people engaging in exerting activities. The exerting body requires far more than just water in order to perform.

“You have to replace electrolytes,” Griswold notes. “And you need protein in particular, which is really lacking in a lot of older people’s diets. Carbohydrates are also an important fuel for our bodies.”

Electrolytes are naturally occurring substances in our bodies. They help regulate chemical reactions and balance fluids in our cells, which translates into efficient muscle contraction and activation.

Proteins are complex molecules, like tiny chemical machines, that do most of the work in our cells, help send important messages and fight off invaders. And carbs supply our bodies with important glucose, which converts to energy for physical activity.

I learned the hard way the importance of balancing these components and fueling beyond just water.

Nature taught me a lesson a few years ago during a thru-hike on Vermont’s rugged Long Trail. It was June, the middle of a heat wave. Climbing Vermont’s 4,000-footers in normal conditions isn’t easy with 35 pounds on your back. When it’s 95 degrees and humid, it’s exponentially harder.

Not yet having learned about the importance of electrolytes, carbs and proteins, I was attempting to replenish my body’s lost fluids and nutrients mostly with water, and not enough of it.

After three days of intermittent cramping in my quads, exasperating fatigue and increasing wooziness, I had to bail and call for a pickup off the trail, an adventure fail that I continue to draw on for its edifying wisdom.

Long-term effects

Effective fueling and hydration for aging and adventure is an ongoing balance of fluids and nutrients. It can sound complicated, but it’s simple in practice. Proper fueling is led by water intake, but supplemented with fruits and vegetables, protein-rich foods like peanut butter, eggs and fish, and carbohydrates like oatmeal, bananas and sweet potatoes. And during exerting activities, some kind of sport drink containing electrolytes (not to be over-used when not engaged in exertion.)

Still, for some reason, despite the volumes of literature underscoring the importance of hydration and proper nutrition, many of us push into our later years not heeding the message.

“As people get older, they tend to not want to eat as much,” Griswold says. “And when they don’t eat, they wither, they lose their muscle mass, they develop vulnerability to disease.”

And unfortunately, our over-marketed society is inundated with promotions of sugary and caffeinated drinks that divert us from drinking water and make us thirstier.

The long-term effects can be detrimental on multiple levels. Brain function, for one. The brain consists of about 85% water. Studies show that dehydration of only 1% can result in a 5% decrease in cognitive function. Depriving the brain of water can further result in short-term memory loss, increased dementia, inability to focus, and general “brain fog.”

Homstead estimates that 25% of dementia in elderly people may be attributable to dehydration.

Most of us want to live as long as we can and continue to be active and adventurous for our entire lives.

We walk, we take vitamins, we do yoga, we see our doctors regularly. Yet, among the most effective tools for living long and maintaining ability for adventure is the simple act of drinking about three quarts of water every day — and eating a balanced diet.

Do yourself a favor. Fill a big glass with water and drink it down, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

“You have to drink by the clock, not by how thirsty you feel,” Homstead explains. “By the time you feel like you’re thirsty, you’re already down 50%.”

Eric Weld, a former Gazette reporter, is the founder of

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