Staying Hydrated in the Office: It All Starts with Access
The best thing about hydration is that your body is good at regulating it for you.
Whether you’re thirsting for a big glass of cold water or feeling like you need just a sip, your body naturally gives you a nudge — in the form of a craving — when it’s time for a refill.
We sat down with Dr. Tom Ronay, Medical Director at Circle Medical (the doctor’s office that comes to you, paid for by your insurance, now operating in the Bay Area), for a deep dive into hydration in the workplace. Since the majority of people spend most of their waking hours at work, how you hydrate in the office can have a big impact on your our overall health.
What is happening on an anatomical level when a person feels thirsty?
Thirst is regulated by your blood vessels and kidneys via a complex and very fast-acting cascade that triggers your brain to crave fluids of any kind. This process all happens automatically: the human body is excellent at regulating hydration and is faster than any laboratory test out there. 1 out of 4 office employees say they don’t hydrate enough.
What do you consider the biggest limiting factor when it comes to workplace hydration?
Access is key. Some offices may not have a filtered water cooler, which forces employees to either buy bottled water at the Starbucks down the street or to try and ignore their thirst. Given that proper hydration can increase employee productivity up to 14%, it’s in every office’s best interest to provide a consistent and healthy source of beverages to their employees. In some larger offices, the water cooler might be tucked away in the corner or halfway across the floor. Small layout changes or adding additional hydration stations is a great way to give employees more immediate access to water.
Another key factor is how you decide to quench your thirst. When you feel thirsty, in reality any fluid can quench that initial thirst, but only some fluids — the healthy ones — will keep you hydrated and balanced.
Let’s chat a bit about the most common beverage in any office: coffee. Can coffee keep you hydrated?
Coffee is limited in how well it can hydrate you. It is in fact a diuretic, meaning it can actually cause you to lose more fluid than you gain. Similarly, it also can move your intestines more quickly than is typically comfortable. It doesn’t have to be coffee either — really any caffeinated drink will have this effect on the body, so it’s hard to work around it. While it is better than nothing, drinking coffee all day isn’t exactly the best way to keep yourself hydrated and focused in the office.
How do our bodies respond to caffeinated drinks and will they actually make us more productive?
How we metabolize caffeine is different from the way in which our body processes something like alcohol. Caffeine is metabolized and removed from your body quickly at first, but after about 4–6 hours its metabolized much slower, meaning it sticks around in our bodies for a fairly long time.
Contrary to common thought, coffee does affect people in the evening, sometimes even disrupting sleep. Besides disrupting the amount of sleep, it can really affect the quality of sleep you get; the time you spend sleeping becomes inefficient, meaning you require more sleep to compensate.
Coffee may give you that extra boost you need to finish out the workday, but it will ultimately affect the amount of rest you get after work.
As the saying goes, ‘you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.’ How can someone like an office manager encourage employees to stay hydrated?
Forcing or shaming people to drink water is counterproductive, especially when there are many creative ways to integrate hydration into your typical office routine. For example, in our office, each person has their favorite mug, cup or glass. These personalized mugs or special glasses are fun and almost a form of personal expression.
Having a unique drinking vessel not only encourages people to fill up their glass, but also helps to lessen the occurrence of anonymous dirty cups in the sink.
What are some different types of healthy drinks an office can keep on hand for those employees that don’t usually opt for plain water?
The variety of alternatives out there is amazing. Many office now stock cold, fizzy drinks, hot drinks like tea, and everything in between!
In recent years, there’s been a national decrease in soda consumption and an increase in demand for healthier alternatives. People are now getting into different types of waters, such as mineral water, seltzer water, and fruit-flavored water, that are more satisfying alternatives to sugary carbonated drinks.
For offices that have a mixture of water drinkers and soda lovers, Bevi is a great compromise. Plain water drinkers can have their fill of plain filtered water, while soda lovers can make the transition to Bevi’s unsweetened fruit flavors.
Hydration is often cited as a form of disease prevention. How do your experiences align with this concept?
As young doctors in training, we learned that providing access to hydration was all that was needed for most of our hospitalized patients. Our patients did not require precise measurements or IV hydration, unless they were immobile or elderly. If you provide access to water, the patient will take care of the rest.
The same thing goes for flu or cold prevention in the office. Sometimes offices will provide their employees with Vitamin C during flu and cold season, but an initiative to hydrate more frequently could have an even bigger impact.
Keep in mind that our bodies are primarily water — somewhere around 60–78%. In general, our bodies are made up of elements that are subject to the laws of chemistry and physics, and therefore have many complex reactions. This means if you’re drinking poor quality water or your water level is simply low, you’re at a serious disadvantage on a chemical level.
When it comes to water, is there ever such a thing as too much?
In my own life, I have received a lot of conflicting advice on this point. My Sergeant in the Air Force always used to say “Drink water until you pee clear,” but this conflicted with what my marathon doctor advised me; he always emphasized that over-hydrating is a real risk for competitors.
These combined experiences taught me that forcing water on people (or in this case, marathon runners) was annoying and counter-productive, but providing access to water was critical in any situation. Unless someone is elderly or has limited access to hydration, they will most likely drink as much water as they need.
Do you have a favorite way of hydrating?
I will admit that I drink one cup of coffee at the office, and I could definitely do more to keep myself consistently hydrated. Having a Bevi in the office would certainly help me take care of that!