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Myth Buster: Swimming After Eating Is Dangerous

MYTH: If you swim right after eating, you might get a cramp and drown.

FACTS: Contrary to what you may have been told, there’s little danger of getting a cramp because you swim after you eat, experts say.

The myth has some basis in science, says Moira Davenport, M.D., a specialist in emergency medicine and sports medicine and an attending physician at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh: “After you eat, more of your blood flow—20 to 25 percent—is diverted to the abdominal area to help with the digestive tract.” So exercising after eating does create competition for blood flow between the digestive organs and the muscles.

But if your meal and activity are light to moderate, then your body can provide sufficient blood to muscle and digestive systems, says Robert McMurray, a media spokesperson for the American College of Sports Medicine and a professor of exercise and sport science, nutrition at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

“There is nothing special about water that causes a problem or stomach cramps,” he says. “Think about it like any sport. If you wanted to go for a walk after dinner, that is fine. So is getting into the pool and swimming around. But would you do a stressful running or high-impact aerobic workout right after dinner? Probably not—you might see the dinner again! The same is true for swimming.”

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