What comes to your mind when someone brings up the topic of dehydration? Some people may picture Tom Hanks on a lonely island in Castaway, or a severely ill person in a hospital emergency room, but it doesn’t have to be that dramatic.

It may come as a surprise to learn as much as 75 percent of Americans suffer from chronic dehydration. In other words, the simple odds dictate that you or someone in your family is dehydrated … and the repercussions can be serious.

Understanding the Dangers of Dehydration

Water is critical to our survival as humans. Researchers estimate that around 60 percent of our bodies is made up of water. It helps to regulate body temperature, lubricate joints, protect vital organs and tissues, carry nutrients to the cells, moisten tissues of the eyes, noise, and mouth, and much more.

In order to continue operating and functioning in a healthy manner, our bodies need to maintain solid levels of hydration. In order to preserve such levels, we have to work against fluid loss and consume water on an ongoing basis.

We can all readily recognize when we’re thirsty, but there are other, less-obvious signs and symptoms of dehydration. They may include: dry or sticky mouth, dark yellow urine, dry and cool skin, headache, muscle cramps, rapid heartbeat, dizziness, sleepiness, confusion, and fainting.

Practical Ways to Avoid Becoming Dehydrated

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluids than you take in. Though thirst usually signals that it’s time to drink up, excessive sweating, diarrhea, or vomiting can lead to a rapid loss of proper levels of body liquids.

But do you know the main reason people grow dehydrated? They’ve spent too much time spent in the heat. “Take a classic case of ‘over heating’ in hot temperatures and then look at the role water plays in maintaining mineral balance,” Dr. Amanda Williams writes for InVite Health.

“We commonly refer to these minerals as our electrolytes. Excessive loss of sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium or phosphorus can lead to muscle cramps, weakness, fatigue, dehydration, elevated internal temperature, and in severe cases even organ damage.”

Regardless of whether you’re in the middle of summer or dead of winter, you can do certain practical things to avoid becoming dehydrated. Take a look at four essential safeguards.

  1. Always Have a Water Bottle on Hand

While there’s no hard and absolute scientific standard for how much water a person should consume on a daily basis, the eight eight-ounce glass rule is a reasonable amount to observe.

And if you’re going to use this as your personal rule, it basically means you should consume one water bottle for every two hours you’re awake.

Combined with other smart lifestyle choices, that should be more than enough to keep your hydration levels balanced.

  1. Look for Alternative Sources of Fluids

In addition to drinking water and other fluids, you can also supplement your hydration intake by eating foods that are high in water content. For example, cucumbers contain 96.7 percent water, which makes them a great source of fluids without being accompanied by a slew of calories.

Lettuce, celery, radishes, tomatoes, green peppers, cauliflower, watermelon, spinach, star fruit, strawberries, broccoli, grapefruit, baby carrots, and cantaloupe all make the approved list as well.

  1. Consume Hydration-Boosting Nutrients

Water is great, but you also need electrolytes and carbohydrates to stay suitably hydrated.

“While both nutrients can help your body absorb whatever fluids you drink, electrolytes — sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium and calcium — are especially important because they are critical to healthy nerve and muscle function,” Abbott Nutrition explains. “And, all of these electrolytes can be lost through sweat.”

If you’re going to be working out (or performing any strenuous activity, especially in extreme temperatures) for longer than 60 minutes, it’s best to consume an electrolyte-packed drink such as Pedialyte (which contains both electrolytes and carbohydrates).

  1. Consume Less Alcohol and Caffeine

There’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol or caffeine in moderation, but the diuretic properties of these beverages means, counter-intuitively, that too much can easily leave you dehydrated.

According to Dr. Robert Swift and Dr. Dena Davidson, alcohol is particularly bad. Drinking the equivalent of 50 grams of alcohol in eight ounces of water can result in the elimination of up to one quart of liquid urine. By lowering your consumption, you can retain more water.

Take Care of Your Body

Maintaining your personal health is not that different from taking care of an expensive car. If you want to avoid serious breakdowns and costly repairs down the road, you need to make an investment in preventive care up front.

By staying properly hydrated, you’re essentially making an investment in your future health. You’re declaring that you value your liver, kidneys, bones, joints, brain and other bodily systems.

Honestly, it takes discipline and effort to consume and conserve water — but it’s critical. Keep this in mind as you continue to prioritize your overall health and well-being.