A recent news article by Helen Branswell of Canadian Press (“Wait an hour to swim after eating? Says who?”) contained two pieces of information, one that surprised me and one that didn’t. Branswell was writing about the well worn safety advice to wait at least an hour after eating before going in swimming. This was a rule I remember as far back as I remember anything about what I was told about water safety. She points out that no one seems to know the basis of the alleged fact that to do otherwise courts the risk of developing muscle cramps that could lead to drowning. The theory, as I remember it, was that blood needed by your muscles was being diverted to your intestines for digestion. Not enough blood in the muscles led to cramps. Cramps while in water over your head might make it impossible to stay with your head above water. Etc.
Branswell quotes a sports physiologist to the effect this is unfounded, that in fact the coaches of elite swimmers will often encourage them to take some high energy food just prior to a race. That’s not exactly the same thing as eating a full meal, but it certainly doesn’t fit with the “nothing by mouth” rule many parents adhered to with their sweltering little ones on hot summer days at the beach or pool. Nor does it address whether there is any validity at all to eating food and the risks of muscle cramps, in or out of the water. But I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if there was simply nothing to it — at all. So that’s the part that didn’t surprise me.
The part that did surprise me, was that whatever the evidence, this rule was no longer being repeated by parents. Since today’s parents almost certainly learned the rule as children and I know of no actual evidence to demonstrate it is wrong (nor does Branswell cite any, and she is a very thorough reporter), this means it just “went out of fashion” to teach this to children. I don’t think I taught it to my children (they are grown now with children of their own), but I don’t remember if I did or not and if not, why not. It’s rather curious that, like water, it has just evaporated.
I am assuming, of course, that it has gone out of fashion. Has it?