The first Wednesday in April is National Walking Day, when the American Heart Association encourages each of us to take a 30 minute stroll. So lace up your walking shoes, depart from your computer, get on your feet, and take a step toward a healthier life.

Of all forms of exercise, walking is the most special. Nearly everyone, from 3-year-old children to 80-year-old grandparents, has the necessary skills to take at least a short stroll. Walking can be done alone or with a friend, and while conversation is always welcome, silences pass in comfort too. A simple jaunt around the block can be squeezed into even the busiest of schedules. Best of all, injuries are rare with walking.

Need more encouragement? By increasing your physical activity, you will significantly reduce your risk of chronic disease and premature death, according to the Surgeon General. Regular exercise helps to prevent high blood pressure and gaining extra pounds, while research also indicates physical activity protects against heart disease, stroke, breast and colon cancers, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and depression. Even people who already have a chronic disease may benefit from becoming active. Walking and other forms of exercise can lessen the severity of an illness or condition by reducing symptoms, which will help you manage it better.

Here’s how you begin.

Prepare and Go

Put on relaxed clothes and supportive shoes. Walking shoes simply need to be lightweight, flexible, and breathable with cushioning at the heel. Running shoes provide extra cushioning, but unless you plan on jogging a little too, multi-purpose shoes work just fine. Bring a bottle of water if you like, though it’s not necessary.

You never want to overdo walking at the start, pushing yourself so hard you never want to do it again. So start with what feels comfortable and gradually increase time and distance as the weeks pass. If it’s easier to take a couple of 10- to 20-minute walks instead of one long walk, the American Heart Association recommends you do that — any physical activity is better than none. Select a comfortable, natural stride and breathe deep.

Changing pace can build endurance, while walking hills will tone your legs. Treadmill walking may not be glamorous or scenic, but if the weather is ugly and that’s all you’ve got, why not? In either case, after you’ve finished, stretch your warmed up hamstrings and calves, move your arms around, and expand your chest, shoulders, and back.

Walking can be an adventure, allowing you to learn new corners of your world, so pay attention to what is happening around you. Though you might want to take a shortcut or wander down a quiet street, if you are in an unfamiliar area, it might be best to stay on the well-traveled avenues where businesses are open and other people are near. Be safe when you stroll by wearing light colors, reflective clothing, or carrying a flashlight or glow stick when you go out during the evening or at night. If you wear headphones, make sure you remain aware of traffic, and if you have to step into the street, watch for cars.

Finally, remember this: there are no rules. National Walking Day is intended to be the starting whistle for a more active life. So begin by strolling whatever distance, pace, and amount of time suits you best, and build from there.