Waiting to Swim after Eating: Myth or Fact?
All of us have heard as a child that we needed to wait at least 30 minutes to swim after eating. This was frustrating when all you wanted to do was re-join your friends and didn’t understand why you had to wait. Now as adults we might wonder if there was actually any truth to this rule, or if it was simply a myth. We want everyone to be safe around the pool.
The exact origins of this rule are unknown but do date back to the early 1900s where it was featured in a Boy Scouts Handbook. This instructed the boy scouts to wait at least 90 minutes before swimming after eating or else they could drown. It went on to say that this would be their own fault for not following this rule. This was perhaps a little harsh and as it turns out entirely untrue.
Swim After Eating? Why a Concern
The idea was that when digesting food, blood diverts to the stomach and one of two things would happen. Either blood would be diverted to the extremities and you would get stomach cramps so bad that you would drown. Or the opposite would happen, that so much blood was being used to digest your food that your extremities would not receive enough to swim properly resulting in drowning.
In fact, it was such a major concern among parents that the American Red Cross wrote an article in the International Journal of Aquatic Research and Education to debunk this myth. Despite evidence to the contrary and reputable sources stating that there was no correlation between eating prior to swimming and accidental drownings this myth has continued to hold weight in the minds of Americans over 100 years later.
Even though you are not going to drown because you decided to swim after eating, the idea of getting cramps is an actual possibility. Your body will naturally divert blood flow to your extremities in order to keep you safe and this may decrease blood flow necessary for digestion in your stomach. This can be result in uncomfortable cramps, especially if you’re doing a strenuous exercise. However, if you’re just recreationally swimming, you probably won’t even experience any unpleasant side effects.
So, the lesson is that your children can safely get back in the pool after a snack at a pool party. However, you may not want to give them a full meal prior to swim practice. After all, who likes to do any form of strenuous exercise directly after eating? You won’t perform your best, you’ll feel uncomfortable, but you’re highly unlikely to die from it.