A side effect of staying home to avoid COVID-19 is that people aren't as physically active.

"Current data shows that less than half of South Dakotans meet the current aerobic physical activity guidelines, and even fewer South Dakotans meet both the aerobic and muscle strengthening guidelines," said Nikki Prosch, health and physical activity field specialist.

The challenge becomes even greater as we head into winter, a season in which many people become even more sedentary.

The Centers for Disease Control has established a national initiative known as Active People, Healthy Nation. Yes, the CDC does work on other things besides COVID-19. And South Dakota State University Extension is joining the CDC effort to promote it here in South Dakota.

Increased physical activity can improve health and quality of life and reduce health-care costs. These improvements can help reduce the risk of at least 20 chronic diseases and conditions, as well as provide effective treatment for many of these conditions. Other potential benefits include better school performance and improved military readiness.

Specifically, the program hopes to move 15 million adults from inactive (no aerobic activity) to some moderate-intensity activity every day, such as brisk walking; 10 million adults from some physical activity to meeting the minimum aerobic physical activity guidelines (150 minutes of physical activity each week); and 2 million young people from some physical activity to meeting the minimum aerobic physical activity guideline by being physically active for at least 60 minutes every day.

Apparently, the best tool in the toolbox is walking, in any form: walking outside, walking at the Community Center, walking around your house, even walking in place. The key is time, meeting the 150 minutes each week. It may be difficult for some people the first week or two, but as a person's physical condition improves, 150 minutes gets easier.

Let's all try to improve our physical activity levels, for our own sakes and for those we love. We all can take the first step (literally) toward better health.

-- Jon M. Hunter