We’re heading into year two of the pandemic. It’s been tough in many ways, but there have also been some positives. For example, flexible work schedules and working from home will continue long-term for many employees. A lot of people improved their hygiene habits by washing their hands more often. Family members living together got to spend more time with each other, which in some cases reprioritized what’s truly important in life. Some people also started new hobbies.

We’ve been confronted with numerous challenges too, as we all know well. A coach friend of mine told me one of the worst side effects of the pandemic is that people are sitting for longer periods of time. When people worked outside of the house, some amount of walking took place every day, even if it was only from the parking lot to a cubicle. It might not have been much, but it was something.

“Sitting is the new smoking,” the coach told me. The idea that sitting all day can be as unhealthy as smoking isn’t new and pre-dates the pandemic, but inactivity is becoming more prevalent. Some health care and lifestyle experts use the term “sedentary behavior” or “sedentary lifestyle” to describe daily routines that use low levels of energy and can lead to adverse health effects.

Recent studies confirm that people in the U.S. are sitting a lot more than before the pandemic. Part of the problem for us in Minnesota is that we’re restricted by our environment. When health clubs were forced to close, freezing temps made walking or running outdoors difficult, and long lead times to purchase exercise equipment became the norm, engaging in physical activities became problematic. There are always activities to do indoors without equipment, but those options are limited.

Studies point to sedentary behavior increasing in the last year, while physical activity among people who had previously been active fell by one-third. One report claims the average American is more sedentary now than at any other time in history.

“Not only the physical effects but also the mental challenges posed by the pandemic have taken their toll,” a chief of orthopedics is quoted as saying on healthline.com. “I have seen that some of my patients are less active and visiting the fridge more often because of the loss of their old routines.”

All of this spells bad news for our health. Muscle atrophy can start as quickly as two days of inactivity, while aches, pains, and stiffness seem to move in just as fast. By now we all know the risks of a non-exercise and unhealthy lifestyle.

In Shakopee, we’re also beneficiaries of our environment. Now that we’re getting glimpses of nice weather, we have the opportunity to get away from our workstations and go outside to walk, run, or bike on the numerous paths and sidewalks around town.

There are mental and physical health benefits to being outdoors and socializing with neighbors. I see and hear a lot of kids in our neighborhood playing outside again, which is always enjoyable. And I’ve been able to connect with other parents when I take a walk around the block.

After what seemed like a longer than normal winter, it’s nice to feel the sun on my face, interact with others in-person, and feel the sense of community again. I already feel healthier.

Brett Martin is a guest columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.