A Healthy Start: Preventive Healthcare in Form of Free Teen Gym Membership

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This free gym membership program for Gainesville's 13- to 17-year-olds is a potential $1.3 million investment by the health club. More than 1,700 teens took part in the inaugural program last year.

The healthiest community in America's solution to the current healthcare crisis: free gym memberships for Gainesville, Fla., teens.

Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers (http://www.ghfc.com) is again offering its Free Summer Teen Membership program from June 15 to August 15 for Alachua County 13- to 17-year-olds. More than 1,700 teens took part in the inaugural program last year, which grants the teens free access to the Gainesville, Fla. gym's three locations.

Christine Lehnick, a 10-year gym member and a mother of four, including a 16- and 13-year-old, said she is looking forward to the program's start so her children can learn the proper ways to exercise from the staff at the health clubs.

"My 16-year-old wants me to let him stay after school so he can hang out and lift weights at the school's weight room, but I won't let him because he hasn't been shown the proper way," Lehnick said. "I want him to (take part in the free teen program) so the properly trained staff can show him how to do it the right way."

Originally intended to combat teen obesity and further the gym's mission of "keeping Gainesville the healthiest community in America," the free teen gym memberships (http://www.ghfc.com/teens) also became a way to ensure that all teens in the area had access to summer recreational activities in spite of the state of the economy, said Joe Cirulli, the health club's owner.

"At Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers, we want to do our part to help encourage teens to get and stay active," said Cirulli, a proponent of preventive healthcare, also known as exercise and healthier eating. "One way we hope to encourage our teens is to offer these free two-month memberships, so our future generations will be well prepared to keep Gainesville the gold standard of healthy communities."

GHFC offers this free program as a roughly $1.3 million investment in the community's future, by providing opportunities for all teens to improve their lifestyle, health and fitness, Cirulli said.

About 13,000 Alachua teens will be eligible for the free memberships, according to the most recent Census estimates.

"Our first year of the free teen membership program was a wonderful success," said Debbie Lee, director of marketing at GHFC. "So many kids were exposed to fitness and movement with the guidance of our staff."

"Many times parents don't know how to get their children interested and engaged in fitness and movement, but we do. This was our chance to share that knowledge with parents and children," Lee said.

The rate of overweight teens in the nation has more than tripled since 1980, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. In addition, the rate of obesity-related diseases typically found in adults are beginning to surge in children.

Health-risk behaviors such as physical inactivity are consistently linked to academic failure, and often affect students' school attendance, grades, test scores, and ability to pay attention in class, according to a recent report by the CDC examining links between student health and academic achievement. Another CDC report links physical activity to higher levels of self-esteem, lower levels of anxiety and stress and higher SAT scores.

In April 2003, Gainesville became known as the healthiest community in America (http://www.ghfc.com/about/history/#Gainesville_Gold_Well_City) when it achieved the first and only "Gold Well City" award given by the Wellness Councils of America (WELCOA). Headed up by Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers, and with the support of Shands HealthCare and the Gainesville-area Chamber of Commerce, 21 businesses comprising 60 percent of the city's workforce became involved in the "Gold Well City" effort. As of May 2009, Gainesville remains the only city in the country to reach the achievement.

By the Numbers:
5% - Percent of overweight 12- to 19-year-olds, 1976-1980 - CDC
16% - Percent of overweight 12- to 19-year-olds, 1999-2002 - CDC
17.4% - Percent of overweight 12- to 19-year-olds, 2003-2004 - CDC
13,000 - Approximate number of Alachua County teens eligible for program - census.gov
$1,300,000 - Potential community investment by Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers

About Gainesville Health & Fitness Centers (http://www.ghfc.com):
Often named as one of the best health clubs in the world, GHFC is comprised of three health clubs in Gainesville, FL. Founded in the mid-1970s by Joe Cirulli, GHFC currently has roughly 28,000 members. Joe Cirulli's story, and the story of the health clubs, was featured in the August 2008 issue of Inc. magazine.

Contact:
Brian Russell
(352) 377-4955 - office
(352) 514-8110 - cell
http://www.ghfc.com

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