I remember the first walk I went on alone after the birth of my first child. “They let you out alone?” my neighbors joked. I felt so free, but I was also mindful of the need to get home within an hour to feed him. As he got older, and I hired babysitters and stopped nursing, it became easier to dash out the door for a run or a swim, but exercise still required planning and coordination. During his toddler years, I bought a jogging stroller and brought him with me on workouts. When he was old enough to take swimming lessons, I swam laps during his lessons.

Then I had a second child. Once again, I had an infant’s schedule to work around, plus a preschooler’s and a dog’s. It became next to impossible to leave the house without at least one of the three. Many of my friends faced the same struggles. Many of our spouses and friends who worked full-time couldn’t figure out how to fit in exercise at all.

I had to get creative, and although I feel like I still have a long way to go before I’m as fit as I’d like to be, I do have a few tips to help busy parents fit in exercise.

Stay close to home.
When you’re nursing, or otherwise on a tight schedule, sometimes it’s just easier to work out near your house, or in it. Running, walking and cycling are all great ways to fit in an intense workout by walking out the door or downstairs to your basement. Several friends of mine have treadmills, and I use yoga, dance videos and a bike trainer in my basement when I need to squeeze in an at-home workout. If you’re lucky enough to have winter sports options within walking distance of your house, ice skating, snowshoeing or cross-country skiing are convenient opportunities for cardio.

Trade with your partner.
Friends of mine love to cross-country ski and run, and every weekend they switch off. One of them goes out to exercise for an hour, and then they trade. It might mean you cut down on your other family activities but, in my family, exercise is a top priority, which means we alternate too. My husband and I have a schedule in which one of us walks the dog in the morning and one walks him at night. That way the dog is guaranteed two walks, and we’re each guaranteed one. Then we fit in other things as we can. He bikes to work and sometimes goes for a swim at lunch. I alternate running with the dog in the morning and fit in cycling or swimming when I can.

Pay a sitter or join a gym that provides childcare.
It’s worth it to me to pay a sitter to watch my kids so I can get outside and exercise. Many of my friends belong to gyms with drop-off childcare, like the YMCA. Consider it an investment in your health.

Take your kids out with you.
In nice weather, you can pop one or two kids in a jogging stroller or bike trailer and bring them along on your walk, run or bike ride (just be sure to follow all age and safety guidelines, like having kids wear bike helmets in a bike trailer and locking the wheel of your jogging stroller if it swivels). With a Chariot, you can cross-country ski with a little one. One winter, we put our infant in a stroller with swivel wheels and took him ice skating. Or, you can take your kids walking, hiking, skating or skiing, depending on the season and their ages. You might not get as intense a workout as you would on your own, but it’s fun for everyone and sets a wonderful example for your children.

Be flexible.
Sometimes the sitter cancels. Sometimes the weather’s too stormy to swim outside or drive to the gym. Sometimes you wake up with a cold. Being willing to switch it up (run instead of swim, walk instead of run) means you’ll still be happy that you got some exercise, even if it isn’t the exact workout you had in mind.

Be patient.
Kids grow up awfully fast, and it only gets easier to find hours in the day to work out—with or without them. Practicing patience when it comes to your schedule and, perhaps more importantly, with your ability to stay fit or lose weight is the key to happiness in so much of parenting!

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