A lifeguard instructor breaks down this common myth.

By Nashia Baker
July 14, 2021
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Pool parties and beach adventures both involve at least one thing: swimming. Safety jackets and wearable floats are a couple of ways to ensure everyone is protected in the water, but there are other precautions many of us follow, like swimming with a buddy and waiting 30 minutes after eating before taking a dip. Where did that last rule come from, and is waiting to swim actually an essential safety precaution? Here, an expert explains whether this is truth or myth.

kids have snack after swimming
Credit: AJ_Watt / Getty Images

Waiting to swim isn't actually necessary.

According to Motti Eliyahu, an EMT-CC, firefighter, and lifeguard instructor at Lifeguard Training NY, there's no real safety requirement around waiting a certain amount of time after eating before taking a dip in a pool or the ocean. "People say that it causes severe muscle cramps, which can cause drownings while swimming," says Eliyahu. "Just like any exercise, if you eat right before you work out, it can cause nausea and you can get uncomfortable, but this won't cause anyone to drown nor is it dangerous."

Still, Eliyahu notes that it isn't unheard of for people to (mistakenly) believe otherwise. "We train over 1,500 lifeguards a year, and we hear it all the time from our students that they need to sit and relax for 30 minutes right after they ate in order to continue the training," he says. "As part of the lifeguard training class, we explain to the lifeguard candidates that eating and drowning [afterwards] have no correlation." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains that drinking alcohol is a leading cause for drowning, though, as it "impairs balance, coordination, and judgment, and it increases risk-taking behavior."

It's more important to understand your nervous systems' reflexes.

When swimming in general, our bodies have a specific response. "We have the 'Fight or Flight' and the 'Rest and Digest,' also known as the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems," notes Eliyahu. Digestion and metabolism are a part of the parasympathetic system, and your body's heart rate is slower. On the other hand, your heart rate will increase in your sympathetic nervous system when you swim. However, Eliyahu says there is a misconception when it comes to these systems. "When you eat, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and diverts the bloodstream away from your arms and legs which can cause drownings," he explains. "While this is true, swimming after eating is not a dangerous activity." The expert notes that you will remain safe because our bodies produce plenty of blood and oxygen to send to your stomach and muscles. "There are no documented deaths attributed to anyone swimming right after they ate," he says. "In short, swimming right after eating, is not dangerous at all."

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