Richard H. Carmona

As the nation begins to prepare for yet another COVID surge in the fall, one of the most troubling lingering consequences of the past two years is the negative impact on teen mental health.

Nearly half of Gen Z (46 percent) confirm their mental health worsened during the pandemic, according to a survey by the American Psychological Association. Indeed the isolation, increased screen time and sedentary lifestyle had a negative impact on many Americans – but none more than teenagers. However, studies show that physical activity can reduce anxiety and stress, and improve mood. In fact, 9 out of 10 teens agree that regular physical activity improves their overall mental health.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), only 15 percent of middle and high school-aged children met the recommended hour of physical activity a day over the past two years. An acute adolescent mental health crisis is now challenging parents, school administrators and health care professionals across the county.

Planet Fitness’s High School Summer Pass provides teens (aged 14 to 19) with access to world class fitness equipment at more than 2,200 locations across the country at no cost all summer. A recent survey conducted by Planet Fitness showed that 88 percent of teen participants felt that their overall mood improves after exercise, and that the free access to Planet Fitness facilities helped reduce their dependency on phones. This unique opportunity allows young people to work not only their physical health, but their self-esteem as well as 8 in 10 participants reported a boost in confidence and happiness since signing up for High School Summer Pass.

Parents are seeing the benefits too with one parent saying, “(The program) gives my son a sense of belonging and accomplishment. He genuinely looks forward to our visits to the gym. This has fueled his interest in healthy living and better eating habits. He has even used his online time researching workouts and diets instead of playing online games.”

With such positive results, it is no surprise the majority of parents report their own mental health has improved because of their teens’ increased physical activity. It is clear that fitness centers play a critical role in our nation’s health care delivery system and specific programs, like Planet Fitness’s High School Summer Pass, and ongoing anti-COVID sanitization efforts can be important tools in the fight against the health consequences of COVID-19.

Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., was the 17th surgeon general of the United States. He advises Planet Fitness on physical and mental health issues.

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