Issue No. 245: Prescribing Play

In the game of life, play is a cheat code for health and happiness.

No Fun

Unlike previous generations, kids today are reportedly more stressed, less physically active, and increasingly medicated.

  • Nearly 30% of US teens report poor mental health, with 22% having seriously considered suicide.
  • One in five American kids is considered obese, and 25% of children 6–17 fail to achieve 60 minutes of daily physical activity.
  • Since 2017, antidepressant use among children (aged 0 to 12) and teens (aged 13 to 19) has increased by 28% and 41%, respectively.

The culprit? Opinions vary, but there’s a growing consensus that too much screen time and social media exposure are to blame.

Whether it’s curbing phone usage, training more therapists, or scaling telehealth platforms, efforts are being made to address the problem.

But, mounting research suggests that a solution may be more obvious—and attainable—than we think.

Born to Play

According to a recent study published in the Journal of Pediatrics, a childhood devoid of play is responsible for declining well-being.

“Our thesis is that a primary cause of the rise in mental disorders is a decline over decades in opportunities for children and teens to play, roam, and engage in other activities independent of direct oversight and control by adults.”

Absent a formal definition, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) describes play as “an activity that is intrinsically motivated, entails active engagement, and results in joyful discovery.”

Whatever form it takes, from unstructured or guided activities to games or simply exploring outdoors, play is critically important to childhood development.

Echoing this sentiment, NYU social psychologist Jon Haidt, a leading voice on the teen mental health crisis, said a lack of play is stunting today’s youth.

“In brief, it’s the transition from a play-based childhood involving a lot of risky unsupervised play, which is essential for overcoming fear and fragility, to a phone-based childhood which blocks normal human development by taking time away from sleep, play, and in-person socializing…”

More than mental health alone, the benefits of play are extensive, including improvements in cognitive functioning, social development, peer relations, and physical health.

Conversely, play deprivation is associated with an increased risk of ADHD, depression, and obesity, among other concerns.

Play Room

Part of the problem, according to the AAP, is that modern life severely limits play.

Combating this reality, increasing access to parks and green spaces while limiting digital distraction and promoting physical activity will be vital in making play a priority once again.

Play deserts. From densely populated urban centers like NYC to rural cities, especially in the South, areas devoid of parks, trails, and sport courts are common.

A key indicator of good health, more than 28M US children don’t have a park within a 10-minute walk of home. Helping put an end to play deserts, opening school playgrounds to the public when class isn’t in session would give 5.2M more kids access.

Dangerous games. Playgrounds are good, but adventure grounds might be better. Researchers found that spaces with fewer “off the shelf” components had 53% more visitors and 16–18% higher physical activity levels in kids.

Along these lines, adventure or junk playgrounds like The Yard on Governors Island in New York encourage risky play, which fosters independence, creativity, and coping skills.

The list goes on… Whether it’s building more sidewalks, restoring recess and gym class, participating in sport, or designating time for nature, supporting play in all its forms has lasting benefits throughout life.

All grown up. Of course, kids aren’t the only ones who need more play in their lives. Adults who engage in play tend to be happier and less stressed. Plus, grandparents who regularly play with grandkids are more active, healthier, and may even live longer.

Punchline: Children are impressionable, forming habits from the cues of those around them. Inside, inactive, stressed out, and on screens, “kids these days” are likely a product of modern-day adults’ lifestyles.

🎙 On the Podcast

EGYM CEO Philipp Roesch-Schlanderer explains how data-driven fitness can transform movement as medicine.

We also cover: building a smart fitness ecosystem, personalizing exercise, its recent $225M investment, and US expansion.

Listen to today’s episode here.

📉 CLMBR lays off staff, shutters LA studio

Smart equipment brands are adjusting to the post-pandemic landscape.

The latest: Makers of a connected vertical climbing machine, CLMBR laid off an unspecified number of workers this week.

Posting to LinkedIn, former employees said they were told the company was “closing its doors.”

However, in an email to Fitt Insider, CLMBR CEO Avrum Elmakis said the company is not closing or filing for bankruptcy. Instead, Elmakis said the layoffs—and the decision to close its LA studio—were made to reduce costs.

While its Denver group fitness studio and HQ remain open, the company is restructuring “in anticipation of a strategic transaction”

For context: Scaling during the pandemic, CLMBR raised upward of $26M from the likes of Jay-Z, Pitbull, and Novak Djokovic.

But, as gyms reopened and consumer behavior shifted, Elmakis noted the new market dynamics last summer, explaining how “everything kind of changed”:

“Markets have changed dramatically this year, certainly for everyone in our category — Peloton and others. The hypergrowth just isn’t there right now.”

Flash-forward a year and, despite announcing its 02 machine and adding new funding in December, the company is being forced to revise its strategy.

Zooming out: CLMBR joins a growing list of connected fitness companies confronting post-pandemic headwinds. lululemon recently laid off 100 staffers associated with its MIRROR hardware division. Tonal saw its workforce and valuation cut this spring amid slowing sales. And Peloton is attempting to engineer a turnaround after cutting nearly 3K jobs.

Takeaway: While CLMBR’s outlook remains in flux for now, it’s clear that exercise seekers will dictate the future of fitness — choosing from the IRL, at-home, and on-the-go options that meet their evolving needs.

☀️ Outdoor recreation inspires new-age adventure lodging

In the US, outdoor recreation continues to climb.

  • 168.1M people, 55% of the US population ages six and older, participated in outdoor recreation last year, a 2.3% YoY gain.
  • 80% of outdoor activity categories saw growth, with snowshoeing, camping, and XC skiing becoming the top three fastest-growing.
  • Running had the highest average outings per runner at 54, while the average hiker hit the trail six times.

But, an important trend, the average number of outings declined for the first time since the pandemic.

What it means: Even as Americans routinely skip vacation, their appetite for outdoor recreation is fueling an $860B industry. So, while more people want to get outdoors, a lack of time, motivation, and access stands in the way.

Venture outdoors. Catering to growing demand, outdoorsy hospitality brands are creating a front door to the frontier, delivering accommodations that range from mountain lodges to off-grid retreats to extreme sports social clubs

  • Microhotel operators Field Station and LOGE are scaling up locations that combine affordable lodging, community events, guided experiences, and gear rentals.
  • Gravity Haus, operator of six members-only clubs that combine lodging, fitness, coworking, and mountain sports, secured financing to expand beyond CO and CA.
  • This January, Starwood Capital and AJ Capital launched Field & Stream Lodge Co., planning 20 to 25 outdoors lifestyle hotels near America’s national parks.

Another approach, tiny cabin retreat operators Getaway, Raus, and Unyoked are raising capital and expanding to make camping more accessible.

Meanwhile, Choice Hotels’ wellness-inspired unit Sleep Inn partnered with AllTrails to give guests access to the trail discovery platform’s premium features during their stays.

Takeaway: For many Americans, the daily grind offers few of the rewards found in the great outdoors. To get more people outside more often, it helps if casual recreationalists feel comfortable there.

📰 News & Notes

  • Therabody introduces portable contrast therapy device.
  • Boutique combat studio BXNG Club expands up Cali coast.
  • Fitt Jobs: Break into or level up in the health & fitness industry.
  • 24 Hour Fitness launches recovery-focused clubs in California.
  • Movano’s Evie Ring undergoes FDA clearance as medical device.
  • Reed Jobs leads $200M+ fund with goal of making cancer non-lethal.
  • KickHouse CEO teams with equipment maker Stroops on boutique strength concept.
  • Calm adds Disney meditation content to tackle back-to-school anxiety in kids, families.

💰 Money Moves

  • Epiterna, a Swiss longevity platform for pets and people, added €10M ($11M) from Daniel Ek-founded investment firm Prima Materia.
  • The National Cycling League, a cycling race series, added undisclosed investment from Kevin Durant’s Boardroom Sports Holdings.
  • Ozlo Sleep, maker of sleep-supporting earbuds, emerged from stealth after a $10M Series A.
    More from Fitt Insider: The $500B Sleep Economy
  • VR treadmill developer Virtuix raised $5M in an equity crowdfunding campaign.
    More from Fitt Insider: VR Fitness Heats Up
  • Aescape, a company creating AI-driven massage therapy experiences, raised an additional $25M.
  • Australia-based personalized vitamin company Vitable secured A$7.5M ($4.9M) in a funding round.
  • Netherlands-based Meatable, makers of cultivated pork sausages, collected $35M in a round led by Agronomics to fuel expansion in the US and Singapore.
  • Mirvie, a maternal health startup, received a $4.6M grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to study preeclampsia conditions in Africa.
  • School-based mental health provider Daybreak Health landed $13M in a Series B round led by Union Square Ventures.
  • FIGUR8, an MSK condition assessment platform, added $25M in a Series A-1 round.
    More from Fitt Insider: The Business of Movement Health
  • ZAMA Health, a mental health platform for the athletic community, secured $500K in an oversubscribed pre-seed round.
  • Brain-computer interface startup Neuralink landed $280M in a Series D round.
  • The Futures App, a baseball training and skill development platform, raised $2M.
  • TytoCare added $49M in a funding round to further develop diagnostic AI for its virtual care technology.
  • Hero Journey Club, a community-based mental health platform for gamers, raised $14.6M.
  • Pelvital raised $2.68M in seed funding to complete development of its FDA-approved pelvic floor strengthening device, Flyte.
  • Uptiv Health raised $7.5M in seed funding for its hybrid infusion therapy treatments.
  • Forum Health acquired InShape Medical, expanding its network of functional and integrative healthcare providers.

Today’s newsletter was brought to you by Anthony Vennare, Joe Vennare, Ryan Deer, and Jasmina Breen.

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