In this Dec. 11, 2012, file photo, students hold their position during a yoga class at Capri Elementary School in Encinitas, California. Credit: Gregory Bull / AP

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Jake Steinfeld, chair and CEO of Body By Jake, serves as chair of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils. To learn more about the DON’T QUIT! campaign, visit www.natgovfit.org.

We know all too well about the physical effects that COVID-19 has had around the world including a rising death toll and a negative impact on the economy, but there’s an alarming invisible phenomenon happening as well — a rising toll on our mental health.

The pandemic has led to increased depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidal ideation. In fact, several surveys including those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Kaiser Foundation found that 40 percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health and/or substance abuse during the latter part of June 2020 alone.

And, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine, one in four Mainers are impacted by mental health and the pandemic has only exacerbated conditions including clinical depression. Recognizing the severity of the issue, Gov. Janet Mills’ 2022-23 biennial budget dedicated an additional $7.5 million to be used toward community mental health services.

Not only are adults struggling, but the pandemic is having an adverse effect on our kids as well. I’ve been advocating the benefits of physical activity for more than 40 years now, typically as a way to combat obesity. However, during this unprecedented time, exercise is needed now more than ever. Not only will it help our kids get in shape, but it will help them improve their mental health, behavior and academic performance.

To that end, my organization, the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils (NFGFC) has partnered with Mills and has selected the State of Maine for our 2021 DON’T QUIT! Campaign. The NFGFC will deliver a state-of-the-art DON’T QUIT! Fitness Center to three elementary or middle schools in Maine. School nominations will be accepted until Friday, March 19. Visit http://natgovfit.org/nominate-your-school/, then click on your state seal to download the short application. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, nominate your school today!

I have witnessed firsthand the positive impact fitness centers have had on students and their communities. When you provide schools with the tools and inspiration, you’ll be amazed by the changes that take place. Now, Maine schools have an opportunity to make a change that will have a lasting impact on kids well into their future.

Building a solid base of physical activity at a young age will put our kids on an upward spiral of success and lays the foundation for them to become strong, healthy adults. In my personal experience, I have found that when kids are building healthier, stronger bodies, they are also gaining confidence, self-esteem and their mental outlook is much improved. Years of research also supports this. Low-intensity exercise has been shown to improve brain function and make people feel better while high-intensity workouts three to four times a week can reduce clinical depression.

While three schools in the state will be gifted a new DON’T QUIT! Fitness Center, there are still many activities our kids can do at home with their family members such as push ups, sit ups, and jumping jacks. Or they can use a variety of items around the house such as towels for resistance training, a chair for triceps dips, or soup cans or milk cartons for total body exercises. If you have stairs, run up and down them to get your heart rate up. To make exercise even more fun for your children, join them, it’s really fun!

And if you have the opportunity, go for a jog, a hike, or a ride bike or simply take a family walk around the neighborhood. Moderate exercise is really helpful and very rewarding both physically and mentally.

Bottom line is that we have a lot of time at home these days and we’ve all had to make major adjustments in our lives. Introducing physical activity that the whole family can take part in is just good medicine. It will help you maintain a healthy weight, improve mental fitness and ultimately enrich your quality of life. DON’T QUIT on your family!