Are extreme roller coasters bad for your body?


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Every year a new extreme roller coaster rider is built that dwarfs last year’s big attraction. For example, be on the look out this year for Zumanjaro: Drop of Doom, a new ride opening soon in Six Flag Great Adventure in New Jersey that lifts riders 41 stories, then drops them straight down at 90 miles per hour in less than 10 seconds.

Zumanjaro is actually attached to another thrill ride behemoth: the Kingda Ka – presently the world's tallest roller coaster, and fastest in North America. Zumanjaro will hoist riders 415 ft. into the sky and rocket them back to Earth at 90 miles per hour while the Kingda Ka ride launches passengers right toward them at speeds of up to 128 miles per hour.

Elsewhere, the world's longest inverted roller coaster at Kings Island in Ohio, with 4,124 ft. of track and seven inversions will be unveiled this spring.

When it makes its debut at Six Flags Great American in Illinois, Goliath will be the world’s tallest, steepest and fastest wooden roller coaster plunging riders down 180 ft. and rocketing through twists and turns at 72 miles per hour.

While you can’t escape the possibility for a technical malfunction that could launch you into the stratosphere and turn you into a pile of jelly upon impact, is it fair to say that as roller coasters get more and more “extreme” so will the health risks?

People with preexisting conditions are the ones most at risk for suffering a side effect from an extreme coaster. In an interview with CBS News, Dr. Jamshid Ghajar, a neurosurgeon at Weill Medical College of Cornell University in New York, and president of the Brain Trauma Foundation said that extreme coasters increase blood pressure and heart rate, so those with high blood pressure or heart problems would be wise to stay off the rides. Also, people with spinal injuries are at greater risk for exacerbating those injuries. And of course, anyone who has or has had brain aneurysms or a stroke should also avoid the rides.

According to an article in the New York Times, there are few published studies on the health effects of thrill rides. What is known comes mainly from research on G-force conducted by NASA and the military. Traumatic brain injury is rare but possible when experiencing G-force, especially with a preexisting condition like an aneurysm.

How to protect yourself

We don’t want to be a total downer. You can still have fun, just be aware of the safety instructions and limitations posted next to each ride and always listen to your body.

Most people who suffer a brain injury will have severe headaches, dizziness, sleepiness or confusion, Ghajar said. If you experience one or all of these symptoms, you should have your doctor checked it out immediately, especially if you have just been on a ride.

Since roller coasters, especially new “extreme” ones are known for sudden accelerations and abrupt changes in direction, it’s important to keep your eyes looking forward and your head up to protect your neck from injury.

Take breaks between roller coaster rides so your body has time to readjust before the next one. If you start feeling sick in any way, it may be a sign that you need to back off the extreme rides for a bit.