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What Happens to Your Body When You Go Swimming?

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The swimming pool is calling. You’ve thrown on your swimming suit or trunks, grabbed a towel, and started running toward the cool water on a hot day. Suddenly comes the yell of your mother. “Stop!” she cries. “You must wait 30 minutes after eating before you can go swimming!” 

Waiting to go swimming after eating is something that many believe is necessary for proper health. The idea behind this belief is that the process of digestion robs the arms and legs of the needed blood flow and energy required for swimming. If you get tired and can’t swim, then you can’t make it back to shore – or to the steps that lead out of your above ground pool, at least.

Sorry, Mom. This myth is busted.

There Is a Clear Relationship Between Exercise and Eating

It is important to know the relationship our bodies have with exercise and eating. This is why athletes will eat a combination of protein and carbohydrates about 3 hours before they will perform. The food gives them sustainable energy so they be at their best.

So yes – this does mean there is added blood to the digestive process when food has been recently consumed, but this is to provide nutrients to the rest of the body.

According to Dr. Charles Smith, if you’re swimming for recreational purposes, then eating right before entering a swimming pool should not pose any problems. Dr. Smith recommends waiting about 60 minutes, however, if you plan to get into the pool for some exercise.

This is where Mom’s beliefs are vindicated. Strenuous swimming within 60 minutes of eating can result in muscle cramps because of the blood flow changes which occur.

What About Children and Swimming Pools?

When it comes to children and swimming, the Red Cross recommends that parents take a common sense approach to entering a pool after eating. If a child is uncomfortable after eating, then delaying entry into the swimming pool for 30-60 minutes makes sense. If the child is comfortable, then there’s nothing to really worry about.

If a child enters a swimming pool on a very full stomach, there is a chance that the blood flow directional changes for digestion could cause stomach cramps. A painful stomach cramp is certainly not an experience anyone would wish on a child, but it also isn’t going to increase the chances of a child drowning in a swimming pool should it happen.

It would be more concerning to have nausea and vomiting after entering a pool and performing strenuous exercise, which is a much more common occurrence. Clearing out all of those organics from the pool afterward can be a time-consuming and costly maintenance task.

So what’s the bottom line? If you feel lethargic after eating or your child appears to be grumpy or easily angered (and it isn’t because you told them to stay out of the pool), then it might be a good idea to wait a few minutes for the body to recover. Yet if there is a desire to dive right in, then just do it. The scientific research will back up that decision.

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