One of the most common myths we encounter in childhood is the myth that says you shouldn’t swim for an hour after eating because doing so can cause dangerous cramps and drowning. Drowning is certainly a serious concern, especially for children. Drowning is the second most common cause of accidental death among kids ages 1 to 14. But feel free to let your kids nosh on that peanut butter sandwich and then jump right back into the pounding surf- this myth is false. Medically speaking, there is no reason to avoid swimming after eating.
Where Did the Myth Originate?
While no one is really sure where the myth that you shouldn’t swim for an hour after eating came from, it seems to date back to pre-1950. Every culture seems to have their own version of this popular myth with varying times that people should avoid the water after noshing. Perhaps the myth originated with moms who wanted to avoid vomiting sunburned children. Vomiting may be more common, especially in kids, when swimming immediately following a meal. Kids often swallow water which can cause gagging and vomiting. After lunch, avoiding the pool is a great way to keep kids out of the harmful midday sun and avoid sunburn. Wherever the myth came from, it is clear that it is well ingrained in our culture.
They Myth Says You Shouldn’t Swim for an Hour After Eating…But Why?
Proponents of the myth that you shouldn’t swim for an hour after eating point out that it can cause abdominal cramps which in turn can cause the sufferer to drown. But while swimming can cause cramping, it’s unlikely to cause drowning unless you are putting yourself in dangerous conditions to start with. If you are in shallow water and experience cramps, most people can simply walk out of the water to safety. People can also float safely while they work out the cramp. And splashing around, as children are apt to do, isn’t usually strenuous enough to cause cramps in the first place. Most people will not experience cramps while swimming unless they are overexerting themselves. These people will get cramps regardless of whether or not they have recently eaten.
My Friends and I…and Maybe Even You Helped Dispel the Myth
The fact that I didn’t perish in a watery death as a child is proof that the myth that you shouldn’t swim for an hour after eating is false. Growing up, my friends, sister and I never heeded the warning not to swim for an hour after eating. Yet, we suffered no debilitating cramps, no drowning. I remember being at the local river swimming area and watching dozens of kids, teens and adults scarf down their lunch and bound back into the river to splash and swim. I never witnessed even one person get cramps. My kids and I go to the beach regularly during the summer and we too eat and then jump back into the water for more swimming fun with no ill effects. Have we just been lucky? I think not. In fact, there has never been even one reported drowning death attributed to swimming too soon after eating. The myth is clearly false.
Competitive Swimmers Help Dispel the Myth
Want more proof that the myth that you shouldn’t swim for an hour after eating is not true? Just look at competitive swimmers. Swimming is an extremely physical sport. Interestingly enough, when swimmers are competing at elite levels they get ravenously hungry- a lot. Watch a group of swimmers before a big race and you’ll likely see some of the same eating behaviors witnessed in competitive runners. Swimmers eat before big races and practice sessions in order to give them the huge amounts of energy needed to swim and to prevent blood sugar from dropping too low and causing fatigue. They don’t make it a practice to stay out of the pool for an hour after eating. Guess what? They suffer no ill effects. Myth busted.
You May Not Feel Great…But it Won’t Kill You
The big reason you shouldn’t swim for an hour after eating is because it may make you feel slightly ill. After eating, the body redirects blood to the stomach to help aid indigestion. Exercise also requires blood flow to muscles. While swimming too soon after eating could cause a painful cramp due to the lack of sufficient blood flow to exerted muscles, the cramps would not be serious enough to cause a person to sink or drown. You may also feel nauseous, especially if you’ve just eaten a large or fat filled meal.
So, while you probably don’t want to go swimming after having a three course dinner or a greasy fast food meal, don’t worry too much about splashing around after eating something.
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