Imagine when you were a kid swimming in the local pool with all your friends. Your whole family was there as well and they’ve claimed the “family spot” where you sit every time you’re at the pool. You’re having a great time jumping into the shallow end and slowly trying to move into the deep end even though you can’t exactly swim there yet. Then all of a sudden your mother comes to tell you its time for some lunch. You quickly run out of the pool and eat the nice lunch your mom has packed for you and as soon as you scarf it down you’re eager to run and jump right back into the pool. However, your mother makes you wait 30 minutes before going back it In. We’ve all heard this old saying before, that you should wait at least 30 minutes after eating before you swim.
Where did this idea come from?
People tend to believe that the reason behind this old saying is that when we eat a meal the blood that is being pumped in our arms and legs, allowing us to move them and swim around, will be diverted directly towards the stomachs digestive tract. It is believed that when that happens, our arms and legs will no longer be able to move, thus putting us at risk for drowning (Myth or Fact).
According to this article, it is actually true that when we digest food, some blood is redirected to help our body in the digestive process. There is less oxygen available to the working muscle and stomach when there is a reduced blood flow which can potentially cause cramping to occur. This cramping however could be caused by a number of confounding factors such as dehydration or not enough electrolytes (Monday’s Medical Myth). These factors can vary from person to person, meaning that everyone can experience cramps for different reasons. Since it is true that oxygen is diverted from place to pace in the body, then it must be true that we won’t be able to move our arms and legs in this case right? Wrong. We actually have enough blood in our bodies to keep every body part functioning. Swimming is known to be a type of exercise. And with any exercise, eating before can cause any kind of discomfort with a broad spectrum, anywhere from cramps to heartburn and everything in between. With that being said, it is safe to say that there is no medical evidence that anyone should wait 30 minutes after eating before swimming.
A study done by researchers proves that when people go swimming on a full stomach, they do in fact have a higher risk of drowning. In fact, these researchers say that there have been past studies that provided inaccurate evidence for a link between swimming right after eating and drowning. Data was collected on 536 autopsies between April 2000 and December 2007 by scientists from Tokyo Women’s Medical University (Nordqvist). All the autopsies were evaluated and the cause of death for each one was determined and they also determined all BAC levels and if there was any food residue in the stomach, meaning that the dead person had eaten before they had died.
Of all the autopsies, 59 of the deaths were undetermined. In nearly 79% of the cases where food had been discovered in the stomach, the person’s death was caused by accidently drowning (Nordqvist). A total number of 111 deaths were suicides and 51 of them were caused by drowning. The scientists then compared the suicides to the 34 people who had accidentally drowned (Nordqvist). 79.4% of the accidental drownings had food residue in their stomachs while only 43.1% of the suicide cases had food residue (Nordqvist).
The findings of this study seem to be very accurate and provide good numbers. Based on the results, someone can explain that there is a link between eating before swimming and drowning. But this doesn’t mean that there really is a connection. There must more studies on the topic to be able to prove that this was the direct cause. There also must be even further studies to determine how much of a risk it is to swim right after eating and to figure out exactly how long is enough to wait before you are safe enough to swim again.
“Monday’s Medical Myth: Wait 30 Minutes after Eating before …” The Conversation. The Conversation US, 18 Nov. 2012. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
“Myth or Fact: Should You Wait to Swim after Eating? | Duke …” Duke Health. Duke University Health System, 26 Aug. 2013. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.
Nordqvist, Christian. “Eating Before Swimming May Be Dangerous, After All …” Medical News Today. MNT, 25 July 2011. Web. 12 Oct. 2016.