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.

One company is combating this issue head-on. Planet Fitness’s High School Summer Pass provides teens (aged 14 – 19) with access to world-class fitness equipment at more than 2,200 locations across the country at no cost all summer long. 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 on not only their physical health, but their self-esteem, as well as eight in ten participants, reported a boost in confidence and happiness after signing up for High School Summer Pass.

One teen in the program, Isabella L. from Texas said, “I am very grateful that Planet Fitness is offering this program for teenagers. Many teenagers in the area cannot afford a gym membership. This is also a perfect way to get many bored teens out of the house while boosting our health and confidence. Personally, being able to go to the gym has given me something to look forward to throughout the week and mood boosts.”

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.”

And, Megan L., a parent in Colorado said, “It’s been so refreshing that Planet Fitness genuinely cares about the mental and physical health of teenagers. As a parent that has struggled with depression and anxiety for my entire life, I’ve always encouraged staying active as it has literally saved my own life. My son and his friends are making a special point to visit the gym at least three times a week. I’ve seen some extremely positive growth in my son.”

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.