Are you too old to ride roller coasters?

Posted at 11:41 AM, Jul 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-22 11:41:13-04

Some people have to miss the fun at amusement parks because they’re too short or too tall, but can you be too old?

As people age, they may feel the bumps and drops of a roller coaster more strongly or take longer to recover from dizziness after having been spun at high speeds. They may just not enjoy the thrill as much as they did as a kid.

“No one is ever too old to ride roller coasters,” amusement park expert and author Pete Trabucco said. “You can ride roller coasters as long as you’re physically able to.”

Most theme parks feature rides at varying levels specifically to attract riders of different ages, but children and young adults up to the age of 30 continue to be the primary market, according to Trabucco.

Although children often have to be a minimum age to ride, upper age limits for an amusement ride are uncommon. What visitors are more likely to see are height restrictions, physical requirements or health warnings. Passengers may need to be able to sit up straight, for example, or have at least one functional arm and leg.

But older riders can tell you there’s more to it than that.

Can you handle the speed?

“The issue is stress: Do you have the stamina to handle a high-speed ride that will push and pull your body?” said Robert Niles, founder and editor of and former attraction host at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. “Riding a roller coaster is far safer than riding in a car to the park, but only if you don’t have any heart, neck or back conditions that might be exacerbated by the speed and stress of a coaster.”

The goal of a roller coasters is to create a feeling of flying, and speed is key.

In recent years, rides have been designed to be faster, taller and ever more intense, such as the Kingda Ka ride at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. It’s heralded as the tallest and fastest roller coaster in North America, claiming to accelerate from 0 to 128 miles per hour in only 3½ seconds.

Thrill-seekers can even wear virtual reality headsets to be fully immersed in a different world as they race along steel tracks.

“The major concern as people get older is blood pressure changes and changes in heart conduction,” said Dr. Malcolm Cohen, former chief of the Human Information Processing Research Branch at NASA’s Ames Research Center. Cohen highlights that exposure to sudden accelerations from roller coasters can pose physiological challenges to people with these problems.

Other health conditions can make going on high-speed rides unsafe, including pregnancy, recent surgery, heart problems, high blood pressure and aneurysms, as well as the influence of drugs or alcohol. Parks now address this by putting up warning signs at ride entrances, asking people with these conditions to refrain from riding.

Motion sickness

Motion sickness can also keep people from enjoying their ride, leaving them nauseated, tired, dizzy and even vomiting.

Though it’s not yet fully understood, motion sickness is believed to be a result of sensory conflicts, when what you see is different from what your vestibular system — the sensory system that coordinates movement and balance — is experiencing, according to Mark Shelhamer, chief scientist at NASA’s Human Research Program.

But people do not necessarily become more susceptible to motion sickness when they get older. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the feeling is most common among children 2 to 12. Shelhamer adds that sensitivity to motion tends to decline with age.

He suspects that older people may be more prone to motion sickness simply because they go on rides less frequently. As people age and adapt to a less active or adventurous lifestyle, their bodies follow suit.

Some safety tips

If you’re unsure about whether to embrace the adventure, Cohen suggests talking to a doctor before going on rides, particularly for those who are frail or have heart conditions.

Go on rides that are shorter, avoid junk food before the ride and try to keep your head still when you are riding. And, of course, always drink water to avoid heat exhaustion.

Following this advice could keep you healthy while enjoying the thrill.