Picture walking down a concrete path in Disneyland at night hoping to avoid the long lines on Indiana Jones when suddenly...you hear music...and see lights reflecting off the trees. It can only mean one thing...the parade is coming! Mickey, Minnie and all of their friends are approaching. You've waited for this moment since you stepped through the entrance gates. Slowly you turn around...and stop...then move aside to get a glimpse of what has made this place popular for decades. You know it as Disney's Electric Light Parade. While it has entertained children (and adults too) from across the globe since its inception in 1955, it has virtually no connection to fitness (unless your competing against friends in a step challenge). So why then might it be appearing in this week's opening paragraph of my blog? Well...
Did you not get just a bit excited about your visual trip down Main Street? Let's hope that enthusiasm will carry over to our topic in this weeks post. Look again at the title. Does anything stand out about it like the parade at the "Happiest Place On Earth?" Of course! Now I get it...might we be addressing electrolytes? Cool imagery and creative intro...but after the last two novels, can we get to the point already? OK sure...now where to begin...
According to the Cleveland Clinic, electrolytes are "substances that have a positive or negative electrical charge when dissolved in water." Since approximately 60% of our body is water, almost every cell contains electrolytes. They, like the vitamins and minerals discussed in the past few blogs, are essential to bodily functions and can affect everything from hydration to heart beat. Furthermore, they help regulate chemical reactions and balance fluid levels both inside and outside the cells. Our cells use these electrolytes to conduct electrical charges in muscle tissue causing it to contract as well as keep our blood pH within a normal range (between 7.36 and 7.44).
Electrolytes are found in the foods we eat. Remember the minerals from the article "Mine"rals For The Taking?" If so, you'll recall that some ended with "um" and performed a multitude of tasks within the human body. What I didn't explain is exactly how they work to keep our bodies in tip top shape. After all, I couldn't tell you everything or this post wouldn't exist. Each mineral has a specific positive or negative charge which allows it to communicate with other minerals. A positively charged mineral (aka ion) is called a cation. One example of this type is sodium (Na+). Conversely, a negatively charged ion such as Chloride (Cl‐) is referred to as an anion. Previously, it was learned that when these two minerals join together they make common table salt. The positive and negative charges balance each other out so there isn't an excess of either but rather a happy medium. By drinking water, the ions split apart and return back to being individually charged ions. At this point, they can once again "speak" with each other and pair up for a second time or move on to another mineral and form a different compound (e.g. CaCl, KCl or MgCl) to handle another bodily task. For this reason it is crucial to eat a wide variety of foods and stay properly hydrated at all times.
In addition to food, a well known sports drink by the name of Gatorade is comprised of electrolytes and used by athletes worldwide to replenish those lost during bouts of intense exercise and competitions. Just so you can say you learned something new today, here is an interesting piece of trivia for whomever of you becomes a contestant on Jeopardy! It was developed on October 2, 1965 by physicist Dr. James Cade and a group of physicians from the University of Florida (Gators) when the assistant football coach Dewayne Douglas noticed some of his players were being adversely impacted by the summertime heat during practices and games. After much research, Dr. Cade and his team realized that important electrolytes were depleted in the players tested and created a sports drink to aid in their recovery. Hence the name Gatorade. However, the original lemon-lime formula tasted so nasty it made team members vomit. Back to work Dr. Cade's team went...and the rest, they say, is history. In 1983, the company was bought by Quaker Oats, new flavors were gradually being introduced and by 2015 sales of Gatorade topped $1 billion. Today you can find it lining shelves in practically all retail and wholesale establishments.
Do you have a child who pitches a fit over having to drink water? Pedialyte works just fine and comes in flavors kids love. Fruit juices will also suffice just be aware that many brands have a lot of added sugar which a screaming two year old definitely does not need. It is loaded with necessary electrolytes, but like in adults, healthy habits are always the best approach.
Besides eating a well-balanced diet and maintaining adequate fluid levels, avoiding things like green tea (a diuretic) and exercise in extreme conditions can ensure your electrolytes remain balanced. Use caution if on medications for asthma, COPD, or other respiratory ailments as they pull key minerals (primarily salt) away from the brain where they are needed most. Having moderately to severely low electrolyte levels can have serious complications ranging from headache and muscle cramping to brain swelling and/or seizures and who really wants that? No one that I know.
In conclusion, let's work as a team and encourage those around us to take "charge" of their health by drinking lots of water, incorporating lots of raw, whole foods rich in vitamins and minerals into our diets, limiting bad cholesterol and saturated fats and remembering to get up, get out and get moving. Both you and they will see life in a whole new "lyte." As always, thank you for reading and be sure to put any questions or comments in the section below. Happy summer!