You were probably raised with waterfront warnings from life guards, swim coaches, and parents like these: “Wait 30 minutes after eating before you swim,” and “If you hear thunder, run for it!” Do these poolside standbys still apply? We talked to UAB internist and pediatrician Stephen W. Russell, MD, to find out.
The Rule: Buddy Up—You should never swim alone.
The Verdict: True. “Even for expert swimmers, it is best to have others around to watch out for any unexpected issues,” Dr. Russell says. “This is true for pools, but especially important for lakes, rivers, and oceans where it is hard to see below the surface.”
The Rule: Rest and Digest—Wait 30 minutes, even after a small snack, before swimming.
The Verdict: False. While it’s true that you should generally follow this guideline, it’s not necessary where small bites are concerned. “The reason for this traditional rule is that exertion of any type immediately after eating can cause abdominal and stomach cramping that can be not only uncomfortable, but also dangerous if you are alone,” Dr. Russell says. “A good rule is to wait for half an hour after any meal, small snacks excluded, before taking to the water.”
The Rule: Reapply, Don’t Fry—Slather on your SPF every hour or so to prevent sunburns.
The Verdict: True. “After being outside for more than an hour, you should reapply sunscreen, because the water and sweat will have likely reduced the effectiveness of the protection,” Russell says. “Children less than six months old should be covered with clothing: hats and “rash-guard”-style swimsuits; and older children should use a high SPF sunscreen.
The Rule: Thunder = Time to Exit—Don’t wait until you see lightening before seeking a safe shelter.
The Verdict: True. “As a general rule, stay out of the water when it is storming,” Dr. Russell says. “Lightening can easily strike the water and electrocute anyone in the pool. If you hear thunder, get out of the water until the storm passes.”
The Rule: Floaties are Functional—Orange arm bands are great for young kiddos still learning to swim.
The Verdict: False. “Floaties on the arms are not adequate, as they do not force a child’s head above water, and they prevent a child from using their hands for their own protection,” Dr. Russell says. “When buying a personal flotation device, look for one that goes around the chest and/or bathing suit, and preferably one that fits like a jacket.”