Why Wait an Hour to Swim After Eating?

Even if you didn’t have an overbearing mother watching you during childhood beach days, you’ve surely heard the old wives’ tale that you shouldn’t eat an hour after swimming. The “why” of that statement is a little less known, but it’s commonly assumed that eating something and then going for a swim causes stomach cramps, making it more difficult to swim, causing a greater chance of drowning. But, despite the popularity of this rule, is it really true?

Fact or Fiction?

According to the epic myth-busting site Snopes.com, no, swimming after you eat is not dangerous, and there haven’t been any drownings attributed to eating before jumping into the water. The website points out that cramps, which are more likely to develop in the extremities than anywhere else, can easily be relaxed while swimming. At worst, a person with cramps will float on the water rather than sink like a stone.

For a more scientific look, consider this article from Duke Health, a website run by Duke University. While post-meal, some blood will indeed be routed to the stomach to aid in digestion, it’s not enough to cause severe cramps and cause your limbs to stop functioning. At the worst, the article states, you may get a slight cramp. Others also state that strenuous physical activity–no matter if it’s swimming or any other activity–after a large meal can cause an upset stomach.

Origins of the Myth

For being such a pervasive and just plain incorrect belief, it’s worth looking at the history of the superstition. As the Snopes article states, it’s a little difficult to trace where the myth originally began. However, we can find a paragraph in a 1903 scout’s guide warning young adventurers against swimming after eating.

Besides that and another dubious published claim or two, it’s difficult to trace the popularity of this false rule of thumb. Perhaps, like many other wives’ tales, the false knowledge simply travelled by word of mouth, passed down through generations of concerned parents. And surely the popularity of the myth has benefited from its numerous appearances in popular culture.

Staying Safe in the Water

Just because you can safely eat and go swimming right afterwards doesn’t mean other water safety guidelines are off the table. As this New York Times article points out, even though you may have the green light to go swimming after a meal, you should still avoid swimming after drinking. Statistics have shown that many drownings can be attributed to alcohol use. While you needn’t wait an hour after eating to go swimming, it’s not a bad idea to stick to that rule when drinking.

There are plenty of other guidelines you should stick to when swimming, especially when you’re at the beach and are supervising children. For a comprehensive guide for staying safe in the water, check out this resource from the American Red Cross. While you may already feel confident in your and your family members’ swimming abilities, staying current on water safety doesn’t hurt and could in fact save a life in the future.

 

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