Joining a gym is a fantastic way to get in shape. But there’s an easier alternative just outside your door that’s open 24-7 and won’t cost a cent: the great outdoors. Whether your preferred activity is walking, running, playing ball, or strength training, doing it outdoors reaps more rewards than you realize. “Outdoor workouts are just as effective as exercising in a gym, but they also give you the opportunity to be creative and have more fun, which helps keep you motivated,” explains Desiree Adderley, a certified exercise physiologist and COO of Fit 4 Life, a wellness company in Charlotte, North Carolina. With summer right around the corner, now is the perfect time to take advantage of 7 big benefits outside activity has to offer.

1. It brightens your mood.

You’re not only taking in fresher air when you move around outside—you also score a huge mood boost. Spending time outdoors has been shown to reduce stress, increase energy levels, and improve focus and memory. “That’s because you’re soaking up the sights and sounds of nature, which are soothing, instead of listening to the clanging of weights and machines under the bright lights of a gym,” says Adderley.

2. It’s good for your health.

Depending on where you live and the time of the year, spending from 5-30 minutes outside is all it takes for your body to take in enough UV light to satisfy your recommended intake of vitamin D, says Adderley. (Just don’t forget the sunscreen if you plan on being outdoors for more than a few minutes). Vitamin D helps you stay active by building strong bones, plus, it plays a key role in cranking your immune system.

3. You’ll feel more connected.

Jogging local streets or organizing a softball game at the nearest ball field can make you really feel part of your neighborhood. You’ll likely meet other people who live nearby and share your same interests and concerns. Besides the social benefits, being among neighbors helps foster a strong sense of community.

4. Your imagination gets a workout, too.

Gym machines help you get fit, but after a while, doing the same routine can start to feel more boring than beneficial. “When things start feeling hum-drum during an outside workout, you have a lot more latitude to switch it up and make it inspiring again,” says Adderley. For example, try a hiking trail that affords a totally different view, or mix in old-school calisthenics, like jumping jacks and leg lifts, into your morning walk.

5. Your whole family can come along.

At health clubs, family members typically go their separate ways. In the great outdoors, you’re able to stick together—running laps at the track, for instance, or shooting hoops after dinner. “Playing sports or games as a family not only helps you bond, but the outdoors offers a safer way to introduce kids to fitness than having them around heavy weights and potentially dangerous moving parts of gym equipment,” says Adderley.

6. You’ll exercise longer.

Research shows that outdoor workouts can typically last longer—and that’s a good thing! “There’s no clock staring you in the face the whole time the way there is at a gym, so it’s easier to lose yourself in your surroundings and get moving for the sheer joy of it,” says Adderley.

7. You can be active on your own time.

Belonging to a health club has plenty of perks, but you’re stuck working out on their schedule, which can be tough when you’re juggling work and family obligations. Outside, it’s easier to work a fitness activity around your daily routine—whether it’s a brisk walk before dawn before the kids are up, an evening bike ride after dinner, or late-night yoga poses on your porch or in your yard. The great outdoors is always open!