Can swimming after eating really cause you to drown?
“You’ll stay right here until 30 minutes have passed,” Grandma chides. Her disappointed grandkids are forced to gaze longingly at the crashing waves from their sand-covered towels, held back by the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches now being digested in their stomachs.
“Aww, come on, Grandma,” the 8 year-old boy whines. “I don’t wanna wait that long.”
“Well, would you rather drown?” Grandma retorts back. “No swimming after eating.”
Can you swim after eating?
Incredibly, the belief that it’s dangerous to swim after eating is common. However, this well-intentioned warning isn’t actually based on facts. That’s right– “no swimming after eating” is just a myth.
If you’re reading this right now and you can hardly believe it, you’re not alone. In fact, this nugget of “common wisdom” is so widespread that the American Red Cross decided to carry out and publish a scientific review about it. The introduction reads:
There is a persistent belief in the United States that swimming immediately after eating will cause stomach cramps, which could lead to drowning. This review surveys the scholarly literature to investigate whether any correlation exists between eating and fatal or non-fatal drowning events and to establish whether it is safe to swim after eating.
Where did the myth come from?
No one is entirely sure where this myth originated. In fact, there are many different versions of it. One states that after eating, digestion diverts blood flow from your muscles to your stomach. If you swim, you might inhibit this flow, and suffer from severe cramps that could cause you to drown.
However, a second version of the myth states the opposite: since the blood flow is directed toward digestion, your limbs won’t get enough blood, causing you to drown.
Interestingly, the “no swimming after eating” rule appeared in a 1911 Boy Scout’s manual. The manual stated, “Many boy swimmers make the mistake of going into the water too soon after eating. The stomach and digestive organs are busy preparing the food for the blood and body. Suddenly they are called upon to care for the work of the swimmer. The change is too quick for the organs, the process of digestion stops, congestion is apt to follow, and then paralyzing cramps.“
It is unclear whether this myth spawned from that manual, or some other source. However, it’s likely that the manual helped popularize the belief that swimming after eating can cause paralyzing cramps.
Debunking the myth
The truth is, your blood flow won’t be diverted enough to cause you any trouble. Yes, you can swim after eating without any fear of horrible, paralyzing cramps. The American Red Cross study concluded: “Currently available information suggests that eating before swimming is not a contributing risk for drowning and can be dismissed as a myth.”
In addition, there has never been a death attributed to taking a dip too soon after lunch!
To make it a tad clearer, let’s take a look at how digestion works. Food takes about four hours to digest. During this time, the body needs to use oxygen and energy for this process. That could mean that these things are diverted from other uses, such as muscle movement, and removing lactic acid from muscles. Therefore, you’re more likely to suffer from a muscle cramp after eating than a stomach cramp. And even then, a muscle cramp will most likely be little more than an inconvenience.
Of course, swimming with a full stomach could be uncomfortable (just like it would be while doing any sort of exercise). Nevertheless, it won’t cause you to drown.
Vacation myth #2: That sunburn will fade into a tan
Sorry, but this one’s false too. You don’t need to burn first before getting a tan. In addition, a bad burn will ache and peel before revealing new skin– and it won’t be a shade darker. Remember, sun exposure greatly increases your risk for skin cancer. So slather on that sunblock! If you absolutely MUST have a sun-kissed look, head to the spray-tan salon.
Vacation myth #3: Peeing on a jellyfish sting will heal it.
The myth that peeing on a jellyfish sting will help it heal started because urine contains urea, which is supposed to help remove tentacles. However, there’s not enough urea in urine to make taking a “golden shower” worth it. Worse still, salt in urine can cause the nematocysts to fire, causing the jellyfish victim even more pain. In addition, urine can also up the risk of bacterial infections.
Using credit cards to scrape tentacles, and sea water to alleviate a sting don’t help either– read a scientific study debunking these methods here.
Vacation myth #4: You don’t need sunscreen if you’re dark skinned.
While it’s true that darker-skinned folks have more melanin in their skin to protect them from the sun, they still need UV radiation protection. That’s why the American Academy of Dermatology recommends using at least SPF 30 broad-spectrum protection. If you’re headed to the pool or the beach, make sure your sunscreen is waterproof.
Unfortunately, this myth has resulted in some serious consequences. While it’s true that lighter-skinned people have higher rates of skin cancer, darker-skinned people aren’t immune. So, when they do develop skin cancer, it’s more likely to be in an advanced stage, since neither they (nor their doctors) will be expecting it.
Vacation myth #5: The earlier you buy your ticket, the better
You might be surprised to know that buying a plane ticket early won’t necessarily get you the best deal. That may have been true decades ago, but it isn’t anymore. Nowadays, there’s a “deal window” somewhere between 3 months to 3 weeks before your desired traveling date. This window will depend on your destination. Therefore, you’ll need to do a little research to find the best times for booking to avoid buying too early or too late.
We recommend using sites like Kayak and apps like Hopper to check for the best prices. Both can send you updates to let you know when prices rise or fall.
Here’s one more myth before you go: staying at an all-inclusive resort is better than renting your own vacation apartment or villa. Find out why this is FALSE by reading this article:
Main image: Grand Fond Natural Pools, St. Barths (TripAdvisor)
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