Summer is upon us and we’re thinking about how we’ll spend this vacation time. Whether it’s a family vacation to a fun and exciting resort, a sleepless weekend getaway with friends, or a romantic tryst to an exotic location, summer inspires trips to any number of favorite destinations, and those places almost always have some sort of amazing swimming options. From a white sand beach, to a crystal clear lake, to a crazy themed swimming pool aboard a luxury cruise ship, or a hike to a local swimming hole, summer is made for swimming.
But swimming is not all fun and games now, is it? There are matters to consider like sunscreen and water safety. Which brings us to the age-old statement most of us heard growing up, “Don’t go swimming for at least an hour after you eat.” Is this really a medical fact or simply an old wives’ tale? How concerned should you be about swimming after you eat? Can swimming on a full stomach actually cause drowning?
The short answer is “no,” swimming on a full stomach will not cause drowning. In fact, not one case of drowning due to swimming on a full stomach has ever been documented. Furthermore, neither the American Academy of Pediatrics nor the American Red Cross makes any sort of recommendation regarding whether to swim or not to swim on a full stomach.
So where did this old wives’ admonition originate? Snopes.com found it was first mentioned in “Scouting for Boys,” which was published in 1908. At the time, it was the overwhelming belief that swimming after eating could cause cramping to such a degree that the ability to swim would be compromised and children would drown. And these beliefs stick with us. Snopes adds that it was mentioned in the film “Star!” in 1968 and the television series “Cybill” as late as 1998.
As noted by pediatrician Dr. Rachel Vreeman, “When you’ve heard them [these tales] from your grandmother and mother and important adults in your life, you believe them.” We trust these people to care for our well being, so it is understandable why this myth has and still resonates with many of us.”
Even though swimming immediately after eating has been debunked by a number of studies, there are still some things to consider when it comes to eating and swimming. Paying attention to how you feel is always wise to take into consideration. Imagine how full you are after eating a big meal, like at Thanksgiving. Is that really a time you want to go running or even play around? No, chances are you want to rest up a bit and relax. Children tend not to eat large amounts in one sitting. They are grazers, snackers, a bite here and a nibble there, and they eat to live. Cautioning children to pay attention to how they feel and to rest if they have a cramp or stomach ache is really the more sage advice.
The true danger is consuming alcohol and then swimming. Alcohol consumption impairs balance, coordination, and judgement, and these effects are increased with exposure to the sun and dehydration. According to the Centers for Disease Control, alcohol consumption is responsible for 70 percent of water-related deaths; 25 percent of those are drowning. Drinking removes inhibitions and can lead to one having a false sense of security. Someone who is not a strong swimmer may get into deep water, no pun intended, without a proper floatation device or support. Panic can set in rather quickly and may lead to drowning, especially if the other members of the group are also intoxicated.
While swimming on a full stomach is safe and won’t cause drowning, the moral of the story is to always use sound judgment. Awareness of how you feel and of your environment is the key to enjoying any situation you find yourself in. That being said, enjoy your summer, wherever you find yourself!