A Real Danger
Swimming after eating is, at most, uncomfortable. Swimming after drinking alcohol, however, can be downright deadly. In addition to the slowed reaction times and general lack of coordination it causes, booze can also increase the chance that a spasm of the vocal chords will occur if water enters the windpipe, locking the airway closed. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that up to half of all adolescent and adult deaths related to water recreation involve alcohol. So if it's to be an afternoon of swimming, remember: It's OK to say "yes" to the burgers, but it's definitely "no" to the brews.
Theories about Swimming after Eating
Water-safety concerns among parents are quite justified. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 2,582 people fell victim to unintentional fatal drownings in 2005. A lot of those victims were children. But how many enthusiastically downed burgers are contributing to those statistics? Probably none.
It's true that blood flows to our stomachs after eating a big meal. While there, it gets busy absorbing nutrients, leaving less of the stuff available to deliver oxygen and remove waste products elsewhere in the body. But does is this competing demand for blood what causes cramps?
The truth is that we have enough blood to keep all of our other parts running just fine after a meal. In fact, some competitive swimmers eat something immediately before a big meet to give them the energy they need to perform well. Also, during exercise, our bodies produce adrenaline that actually helps deliver oxygen to the muscles that need it most. And even if a cramp seized a swimmer in a particular part of his or her body, it's highly unlikely that it would be severe enough to cause a drowning accident.
Of course, as with many nuggets of folk wisdom, there's a kernel of good advice within this old wives' tale. There is a difference in terms of quantity and type of food eaten and digestive speed. Simple carbohydrates like those in a bag of potato chips are more quickly broken down than the fat and protein in our much-loved burgers. So if anyone has just indulged in a big meal fresh off the grill, splashing around in the pool is just fine, but it might not be such a bad idea to wait a bit before engaging in any seriously strenuous swimming.
One theory suggests that "stitches," or cramps, are caused by the weight of a full stomach tugging on the ligaments that hold it in place. Whether or not this is true, it's a fact that a full belly can make any exerciser uncomfortable -- and in some cases can lead to vomiting.
So as long as we're not talking about world-record breaking distances, it's perfectly safe for kids to chow down and dive in. Good news for little ones, but there goes mom and dad's chance to enjoy those extra drowsy minutes on the picnic blanket after lunch.
Want more old wives' tales myth busting? Try the next page.