If you haven’t started a walking routine during this pandemic, there’s no better time than today. With the major benefits to mind, body, and spirit, we have nothing to lose, and only tremendous benefits to gain.

Walking is, in fact, the perfect exercise. It works many of our muscles and has positive health effects, both immediate and long term. Those effects are physical and mental too. Did you ever notice how good you feel after a long walk? Not surprising, as walking briskly releases those feel-good endorphins, which can, and will, lighten your mood.

Walking is easy, inexpensive and it’s free. So what’s not to like? We can walk alone, with family or a friend or with our dogs. The social aspect of walking with a friend is beneficial to both mind and body. Instead of meeting for coffee, meet for a walk. Or do both!

Harved.Edu listed 5 benefits of walking, ranging from a decrease in risk of breast cancer to general immune support, with 43% less sick days for daily walkers! That’s huge. Walking can also reduce joint pain by lubricating knees and hips and strengthening the supporting muscles. Don’t use mild pain as an excuse to put off walking. Rather, speak to your healthcare professional and check if walking would actually be beneficial to your pain issues.

Another perk, from the Harvard study, is that your sweet tooth is reduced and weight-promoting genes are cut in half when you walk about an hour a day! For many of us, this is incentive enough alone.

Besides all that, there are even more reasons to walk! Brisk daily walking can reduce your risk of hip fractures, improve circulation, and strengthen hip and leg muscles. Walking has also been known to improve sleep and help with insomnia. Walking also slows down mental decline and can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s. People that walk regularly live longer lives.

Walking can also teach you mindfulness. When we turn off the devices and pay attention to what is around us, our brains relax and we are truly in the moment. Using all our senses is a way to relax and focus. Look at the birds, flowers, houses, or water and really pay attention. Listen to your footsteps or the rustling of the leaves. Feel the wind on your face and your heart rate picking up a little bit. Some days you may prefer this silence (try it!) while other days earbuds with your favorite music, a podcast, or a walking meditation (try the Calm app) will do just the trick to keep you going and uplifted.

Not sure when to walk? It’s dependent on where you live, but most of us can walk year-round. Obviously, in hotter months, pack the water and walk in shade when you can, staying hydrated and not over-doing it. Morning or evening walks are good in summer months. As fall rolls into winter, there’s no reason you can’t get out and walk in proper clothing. Last year I committed to short 15 minute walks no matter what the temperature was. As I’m not a cold-weather person, this was a big challenge to me, but I figured that time was a short and doable goal. Despite shivering and general “why am I doing this?” questions popping into my head, I thoroughly enjoyed my walks. Some even stretched to 30 minutes. Afterward, I felt my mood uplifted and my spirits lighter. On long dark cold days, getting fresh air and some exercise is essential for wellness. If it helps, make a chart on the fridge or your phone, as a reminder to walk every day, and keep track. Watch the hours add up as you reap the major benefits of daily walking!

I like to mix it up, something different each walk. When I walk and talk with a friend, time flies, and we not only connect and laugh, we get in a solid healthy long walk.