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Dehydration is a dangerous condition that can cause a host of complications and even prove fatal in severe cases. But as dangerous as dehydration can be, many cases are entirely preventable.

The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink enough water. When the body does not take in as much water as it puts out, it can become dehydrated. People who live in warm climates or in elevated altitudes may lose more water than those who do not. In addition, water loss is accelerated during strenuous exercise, highlighting the emphasis men and women must place on drinking enough water during their workouts.

But water does more for the body than prevent dehydration. The following are a handful of lesser known ways that water benefits the body.

  • Water can help people maintain healthy weights. Dieting fads come and go, but water is a mainstay for people who want to control their caloric intake in an effort to maintain healthy weights. Water has zero calories, so reaching for a bottle or glass of water instead of a soda, lemonade or another caloric beverage can help people keep the pounds off. A study from researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center found that even diet soda enhances weight gain by as much as 41 percent. In addition, soda has been linked to conditions such as obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. No such association exists with water.
  • Water helps to fight fatigue. The fatigue-fighting properties of water are another of its lesser known benefits. When the body is not adequately hydrated, it can experience muscle soreness. And fitness enthusiasts who do not drink enough water may notice their bodies require extensive recovery time after working out. Each of those consequences can be prevented by drinking enough water, and doing so can even improve performance, as studies have shown that just a 3 percent loss of body weight due to dehydration can cause as much as a 10 percent drop in performance level.
  • Water can improve the appearance of the skin. Skin that does not get enough water can turn dry and flaky and feel tight. In addition, dry skin is more likely to wrinkle than adequately hydrated skin. Getting water to the skin can be tricky, as the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health notes that water will reach all the other organs of the body before it reaches the skin. But the school recommends applying a hydrating moisturizer within two minutes of leaving the bath or shower and drinking at least eight glasses of water a day to ensure the skin is getting enough water.
  • Water helps the gastrointestinal tract. Water can help maintain normal bowel function. When the body lacks sufficient fluid, the colon will pull water from stools in an effort to stay hydrated. That can lead to constipation, a condition in which people experience difficulty emptying their bowels. By drinking enough water, people can ensure their colon will not have to pull water from stools to stay hydrated, thereby helping them stay regular.

Water helps the body in myriad ways, many of which might surprise people unaware of just how valuable water can be to the body.

The way to a person’s heart may be through his or her stomach in more ways than one. Doctors have tied heart health to the abdomen, and having extra pounds around one’s middle can be detrimental to cardiovascular well-being.

Excess visceral fat in the belly, something doctors refer to as “central adiposity,” may have potentially dangerous consequences. While the link between belly fat and heart health has long been associated with men, women may be even more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of belly fat. A study published in March 2018 in the Journal of the American Heart Association examined 500,000 people between the ages of 40 and 69. Participants had their body measurements taken, and then were kept track of for heart attack occurrence over the next seven years. During that period, the women who carried more weight around their middles (measured by waist circumference, waist-to-hip ratio or waist-to-height ratio) had a 10 to 20 percent greater risk of heart attack than women who were just heavier over all.

Belly fat is particularly dangerous because it doesn’t just include the insulating, or subcutaneous, fat under the skin. It is largely visceral fat that also surrounds the organs in the abdomen. Harvard Medical School reports that visceral fat is metabolically active and has been strongly linked to a host of serious diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.

Visceral fat is like an endocrine organ that secretes hormones and a host of other chemicals linked to diseases that can affect adults. One substance is called retinol-binding protein 4 (RBP4), which has been tied to an increased risk of coronary heart disease. In 2015, a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that normal-weight people with excessive belly fat had a higher risk of dying of heart disease or any other cause compared with people without central obesity.

The online health and wellness resource Medical News Today says doctors determine belly fat to be a problem when a woman’s waist measures 35 inches or more and a man’s 40 inches or more. MRIs also can be used as a fat analyzer and will be judged on a scale of 1 to 59. A measurement of 13 and under is desireable.

The Mayo Clinic advises that poor diet and fitness habits can contribute to belly fat. As people age, they may have to make more drastic changes to their diets and exercise regimens to counteract changes in their metabolisms. Eliminating sugary beverages, watching portion sizes, counting calories, doing moderate aerobic activity daily, and choosing healthier foods can help tame visceral fat. Also, doctors may recommend those who are stressed to try stress-busting techniques, as stress also may be tied to excessive belly fat.

Belly fat should not be overlooked, as its presence can greatly increase a person’s risk for various diseases.