Most children at some point will have been given the warning by their parents not to swim on a full stomach. But parents may not always know what's best -- at least when it comes to swimming. The conventional wisdom is that blood rushes to the stomach to aid with digestion and away from the muscles you use while swimming. The myth would have many believe that the food in your stomach can cause cramps and even lead to drowning. The medical community, however, has set the record straight long ago about this myth.
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The myth that you have to wait 30 minutes or even an hour until you can swim after eating has been conventional wisdom for some time. The simple fact is, however, that swimming on a full stomach does not significantly impact your ability to swim. While it is true that blood rushes to the stomach to aid in the digestion process, it is not nearly enough blood to cause your muscles to lose energy and their ability to perform, according to Gerald Endress, an exercise physiologist and the director of the Diet & Fitness Center at Duke University.
Developing cramps to the point that they could cause drowning is another aspect of the myth that swimming after eating is unhealthy or dangerous. Your chances of drowning due to a full stomach are very small. Dr. Roshini Rajapaksa of the New York University School of Medicine notes that a full stomach may lead to cramps if you swim vigorously, but drowning deaths in the U.S. linked to a full stomach account for less than 1 percent.
Swimming after eating should be seen as any other type of physical activity. You should exercise at a low to moderate level of intensity to avoid upsetting the stomach. If you were to do sprints or perform a high-impact aerobic fitness routine immediately after eating, your stomach would probably not agree for too long. Swimming is a perfectly acceptable activity after eating, as long as it is performed at a reasonable level of intensity.
MayoClinic.com recommends that a child take a short break before swimming if he feels lethargic from eating a heavy meal. In general, however, children can swim immediately after eating a snack or light meal.
You should be concerned more with swimming after consuming alcohol than swimming after eating. Limit the amount of alcohol you consume if you plan on going swimming. Typically, two alcoholic beverages are enough to impair most adults, even if you don't noticeably feel a change. NYTimes.com reports on two separate studies that found 25 percent of adolescent drowning deaths in Washington in 1989 were related to alcohol, while 41 percent of adults in California who drowned in 1990 were intoxicated.
- Duke Health: Myth or Fact -- Wait 30 Minutes After Eating to Go Swimming
- NY Times Health; The Claim -- Never Swim After Eating; Anahad O'Connor; June 2005
- AARP; Myth Buster -- Swimming After Eating Is Dangerous; Geoff Williams; July 2008
- Mayo Clinic: Infant and Toddler Health; Jay Hoecker; June 2010