Of all the food and beverage choices you face every day, what's calorie-free, virtually cost-free, and, oh yes, essential to keeping you alive? But those aren't the only reasons to drink it.

"Water drives basic body performance," says Beth Reardon, director of nutrition for Duke Integrative Medicine, part of the Duke University Health System. "All of the systems in the body require water for proper functioning, and so do 90 percent of all chemical reactions in the body."

Here are the top reasons to quench your thirst with water.

Being sure to sip water throughout a stressful day can soothe stress-induced symptoms as diverse as headaches, tense muscles, fuzzy thinking, a pounding heart, and low energy. That's because stress taxes all your basic body systems -- and when you're dehydrated, the effects are magnified.

Water-drinking tip: "Eight by eight -- eight 8-ounce glasses a day -- is a good general rule of thumb,but it's a myth that's the magic amount for everyone, because there are so many variables." The "right" amount for you depends on factors including your age, your activity level, your health level, medications you're taking, and the weather. So how do you know if you're drinking enough? Follow your thirst, and know that you're on the right track if you have straw-colored urine.

Why: In a 2010 study of adults aged 55 to 75, drinking two 8-ounce glasses of water before meals was associated with almost four pounds more weight loss in 12 weeks than in a control group who ate a similar diet but didn't have the pre-meal H20. Participants drank an average of 1.5 cups of water a day before the study.

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