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My grandma Betty ruled the roost with an iron fist. Only 30 minutes of TV time. Only one person at a time opens Christmas presents. Come when the dinner bell rings. And, never, EVER go swimming right after you eat. (Difficult because she lived in Florida for as long I knew her, and we always, always went swimming.)

swimming safetyI was shocked, and secretly vindicated, when I discovered as an adult that eating and swimming directly afterward was not, in fact, going to result in me drowning in the throes of terrible stomach cramps. (For posterity sake, however, I must admit that I am all in on the TV time rule, and I half-heartedly attempt the one at a time rule at Christmas. And I am as bossy as she was with a camera.)

In the interests of 8-year-olds everywhere (and the rest of you who may still believe this), stick around while I debunk this and other popular (and dangerous) swimming myths.

MYTH #1: I have to wait thirty minutes (or an hour) after eating before swimming. (Grandma said so!)

FACT: Much to the chagrin of exhausted parents everywhere, this is NOT TRUE. The thought behind this oft-wielded rule is that the blood rushing to your digestive system to help process your meal is diverted from your arms and legs. The resulting loss of blood causes cramps and potential drowning. While it is true that more blood moves to the stomach to aid in digestion, it is nowhere near enough to cause your muscles to fail. Our body produces the volume of blood needed to perform many functions at once. In fact, swimming produces adrenaline, which can step up oxygen delivery to needed areas. Rather than sitting out, use common sense when eating and swimming – heavy meals tend to make you more lethargic and engaging in heavy exercise on a full stomach is more likely to cause stomach upset. So by all means, wait if you are in a post-lunch food coma. Otherwise, dive on in! 

MYTH #2: There is no need to wear sunscreen – after all, I’m mostly under the surface of the water. Or, it’s cloudy today, I don’t need sunscreen at all!

FACT: Wear sunscreen. Full stop. Everyone is susceptible to skin cancer, no matter your age, race, or gender. Studies show an estimated 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer in their life. On top of that, water, sand, and snow INCREASE your need for sunscreen because they act as a powerful reflector of the sun’s rays.  And just because you tan beautifully, doesn’t mean you don’t need sunscreen! Both tans AND sunburns are signs of skin damage. Here are some quick tips to maximize sunscreen usage.

  • Apply 30 minutes before swimming, then reapply, reapply, reapply! Every 40 to 80 minutes, depending on the water resistance level.
  • Pay attention to expiration dates. Ingredients can break down over time.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of SPF 15 or higher, but the difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50 is 1% more protection.
  • Wear sunscreen on cloudy days. UVA/UVB rays can penetrate clouds and even glass! On cloudy days, as much as 80% of the sun’s dangerous UV rays can still damage your skin.

MYTH #3: No need to stay hydrated – after all, I’m IN the water!   

FACT: Swimming is a strenuous sport, and like any other vigorous activity, can cause loss of fluids through sweating. Because we are in the water, however, we are LESS likely notice, and therefore more susceptible to dehydration. So, when planning a day at the pool, the lake, or the beach, begin hydrating long before you hit the water, and continue throughout the day. Athletes training in the pool should drink actively hydrate throughout the day and add in electrolyte replacements as needed. In the immortal words of my drill sergeant: “DRINK WATER.”

MYTH #4: Drowning is loud and easy to spot. I’ll know if my child is in trouble!

FACT: Due to the Instinctive Drowning Response, so named by Dr. Francesco Pia, drowning is often silent, and happens within eye and earshot of other people. According to the CDC, drowning is the second leading cause of death among children between the ages of 1 and 14. Additionally, just under half of these accidental drownings will occur within 25 yards of an adult, and in approximately 10% of cases, the adult will actually watch the drowning occur.

According to Dr. Pia and Mario Vittone, a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, here are the signs to watch for:

  • Unable to call for help
  • Unable to raise arms and wave for help
  • Head low in the water, mouth at water level
  • Head tilted back with mouth open
  • Eyes glassy and empty, unable to focus
  • Eyes closed
  • Hair over forehead or eyes
  • Not using legs – Vertical
  • Hyperventilating or gasping
  • Trying to swim in a particular direction but not making headway
  • Trying to roll over on the back
  • Appear to be climbing an invisible ladder.

Parents, stay close to your babies. It only takes a second. Trust me, I know. Stay within arms reach of non-swimmers, and only use Coast Guard approved flotation devices.

There. I hereby pronounce you safely equipped to start swimming, whether it be after lunch or before!

And if perhaps you don’t actually know how to swim, choose from one of our popular swim programs to get started today. We offer infant, child, adult and programs for individuals with special needs. Don’t be a statistic!

You can help us save other peoples’ lives too. Have you already experienced what swimming can do? Partner with us today to teach economically disadvantaged children, children with special needs, and Service-Disabled Veterans to become One with the Water. Help reduce the risk of drowning for children by up to 88%!


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