Originally published May 14, 2019 in the Turlock Journal.

By Angelina Martin

While summertime for most kids means a vacation away from homework, projects and stress, for students who utilize their school’s workout equipment, remaining physically active during the hotter months can be difficult. From now until September, Planet Fitness is challenging students to keep up their healthy habits by giving them a place to workout for free over the break.

Planet Fitness gyms nationwide — including Turlock’s — are inviting high school teenagers between the ages of 15 and 18 to work out free of charge May 15 through Sept. 1 as part of the Teen Summer Challenge Initiative, brought on by a recent online survey conducted by the gym which shows 91 percent of teens want to stay active over the summer.

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ new physical activity guidelines, 80 percent of Americans do not currently meet the recommended amount of physical activity. The guidelines also challenge youth (ages six through 17) to pursue a minimum of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day.

According to Planet Fitness Chief Executive Officer Chris Rondeau, the Teen Summer Challenge gives local teens the opportunity to meet and exceed those guidelines by way of cardio machines, strength training equipment and even free fitness classes.

“Teens today are under ever-increasing pressure to succeed academically and socially, battle a growing list of responsibilities both inside and outside of the classroom and become well-rounded members of their community,” Rondeau said. “We want to give teens across the United States the chance to stay active when school is out — a time when they may not otherwise have access to organized fitness or athletic programs, which is why we’re offering a safe space to exercise for free and spend time with their friends all summer long.”

Today’s teens are more health-conscious than ever before, according to a national study commissioned by Planet Fitness. Youth view exercise as not only a way to be in shape, but also believe that it positively impacts their mental health and focus on schoolwork.

The study also sadly found that nearly half of all teens surveyed (42 percent) lack a positive body image, while two in five (41 percent) reported that their fitness levels decrease over the summer when school is out.

According to Turlock High School physical education teacher and coach Anthony Belew, free gym sessions at Planet Fitness will mainly benefit those students who aren’t involved in athletics and won’t have access to fitness equipment this summer. He teaches multiple weight lifting courses to teens who don’t want to lose their progress over the break, he said, and this will allow them to continue making strides even when school is out.

“I’ve got a lot of kids who live in the area and are looking at me, asking if I’m going to be able to open the gym for them this summer…this is really beneficial for them,” Belew said. “Some students are too intimidated to join a team so they don’t have the means to continue lifting.

“This is awesome and the kids are going to love it, and hopefully this will keep them going over the summer and we’ll see some big gains when they get back.”

Pitman High School PE instructor Debbie Clemens said the opportunity offered to students by Planet Fitness would help them keep up with the state’s fitness requirements.

“A summer membership is a fantastic opportunity for our students. Not only can they increase their level of fitness, they can continue to master the standards set for them throughout the year,” she said.

THS PE teacher JoAnn Davison hopes the Teen Summer Challenge will motivate students to carry over their fitness habits learned at school into life at home over the next few months.

“Our PE motto at THS is strong body, strong mind, which is in line with our umbrella motto at THS: thinkers, hard workers, self-motivators,” Davison said. “As our 4th quarter is devoted to transferring what we learn throughout the year to lifelong fitness, this is a perfect community partnership.”

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