We know, we know. You're busy. You've got kids. A full-time job. A dog that needs fresh kibble and a cat with an overly fragrant litter box. And what happened to that romantic date night you and your spouse had planned?

Sorry. We're tired of excuses.

Fitness is important. After all, how can you be there for your kids, your spouse, your pets and your employer if you're not healthy?

It's January, folks. Time to get cracking.

But honestly, how do you cram exercise into an already overpacked schedule? We sat down with Dr. Mary Mirto, an Austin physician, to get some tough love on how to make fitness a realistic part of your lifestyle.

Like a lot of working mothers, Mirto, 51, knows what a struggle it can be to make time for exercise.

She's got two daughters, ages 11 and 14, and runs her own medical practice. She's not a morning person and doesn't salivate with enthusiasm at the prospect of an afternoon run.

As a physician, though, she understands the importance of physical fitness. She knows that obesity increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and a host of health problems. She knows that as we age, our bodies get weaker and we lose flexibility and balance.

Women in particular tend to not take care of themselves as this happens, she says. "Fitness is way down the list when it comes to home and work. Ultimately, we pay for it."

So, Mirto makes it a point to exercise.

Ideally, we would all manage an hour of exercise every day. For many people, that's impossible, so Mirto recommends squeezing in a minimum of 20 or 30 minutes most days.

You'll feel better, and it'll help with weight loss, depression, PMS and stress management.

Got kids?

If you've got small children, they'll likely dictate how and when you can exercise.

If possible, coordinate with your spouse so while one of you exercises, the other watches the children. Trade off.

What to do? Try walking. You don't need special equipment and you can do it straight from home. Find a friend to join you and keep you accountable.

"A 20- to 30-minute walk daily is excellent for maintaining cardiovascular health," Mirto says.

Look for a mother's day out program or swap child care with another parent.

If someone at home can help with the kids, drive directly from the office to the gym before heading home. "Once you're home, your evening is consumed with homework, meals and getting everyone to bed," Mirto says.

Can't leave the house?

Cable television offers an array of on-demand fitness programs that you can tune into on your own time. If you don't have on-demand cable, record an exercise program on television or pick up a fitness DVD.

If you have a treadmill or stationary bike, watch a DVD of your favorite comedy show without commercials. That's 23 to 26 minutes. (Mirto advises against watching news. It'll bring you down. Better to focus on how your body is feeling or laugh while you exercise.)

Make Junior part of the workout.

Some parents manage to work their child into their exercise program. Organized exercise programs like Stroller Strides or Mommy and Me Yoga let you exercise with your offspring.

Even just playing with a toddler, which will have you standing, squatting and crawling on the floor, is good exercise. Or pop in a kids' yoga DVD and do the movements alongside your child. You can even use your child as a weight — have him or her sit on your feet and do crunches. Just keep it safe.

If your kids are older, consider a family walk in the neighborhood or a family Wii game. "It's not the same as the gym, but it takes 15 or 20 minutes and there's a lot of variety out there," Mirta says.

On the job

Think of fitness as part of your job. It can spur creativity.

If you're working full-time, and you get an hour for lunch, try taking a 20-minute walk. (You still need to eat, plus it takes a few minutes to change clothes.)

Look at things you would normally do and see where you can overlap them with exercise. Instead of meeting with a co-worker for coffee, meet for a walk.

Hand-deliver paperwork instead of phoning or sending an e-mail.

Take advantage of employer wellness programs, on-site gyms or exercise classes.

Listen to this dad

Panther Carmichael, coach of Team Riff Raff running group and a personal trainer at East End Fitness, knows the challenges of cramming fitness into an overpacked schedule. "As the father of a toddler and a newborn, and as someone who has several jobs, I've found that you have to take fitness when you can get it," he says.

Carmichael suggests a 20-minute run or short weight-training workout at a nearby gym during your lunch hour. Or work in your exercise around older kids' extracurricular activities.

"I have a friend who's an ultra-runner, and he used to take his son to baseball practice on Saturday morning, literally run from the practice ... and finish up when his son was finished with practice," Carmichael says.

His other suggestions? Go to the gym as a family after work or hit the hike-and-bike trail together.

"I believe that it's important to teach your kids that fitness is something that should be a part of your daily life and is a high priority, like family and work. In today's world of rampant obesity, growing concerns about Type II diabetes and so many other health problems caused by leading a sedentary or inactive life, teaching your children about health and fitness not only should be one of your main concerns as a parent, but truly must be."

It's all in how you word it

Take a tip from TeamTexas swim coach and sports psychologist Keith Bell. Don't call swim practice or your morning run or that aerobics class a workout. It's not work; it's probably the best part of your day.

And one more thing

Don't exercise in place of sleeping. If you're getting up early to exercise, go to bed early, too.

"The bottom line is don't give up. Every day is a clean start. The whole idea is you don't have to go to a gym or get into special clothes to exercise," Mirta says. "You definitely need to just make it a priority."

pleblanc@statesman.com; 445-3994

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Here are some other tips:

Don't take the closest spot in the parking lot. Park farther away and walk.Walk or bike to work.Take the stairs. If you live or work in a high-rise, take the elevator part of the way, then get off and walk the rest.Do wake-up stretches every morning.Take a stretch break in the afternoon. Wear a pedometer, and shoot for a minimum of 10,000 steps a day.Garden, clean the house, mow the lawn.

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Listen to the experts to see how they work it in

We polled some fitness gurus in the Austin community to find out their tips for working in fitness.

Dixie Stanforth, kinesiology and health education instructor at the University of Texas

"It is a non-negotiable, so I most often work out first thing — at times my students don't believe people are even breathing! It might be dark, and maybe even cold, but there is no way other things will interfere — like meetings, etc."

Sarah Stewart, personal trainer for Kinetic Movement Systems

"Do 2 minutes of pushups, deep squats, burpees or a ‘hard' exercise every hour. Pick a different one every day."

Panther Carmichael, Rogue Training Systems running coach

"If you're on baby duty while your spouse is at work or off doing something else, put the kid(s) in a baby jogger or bike trailer and get in whatever mileage you can ... Most of the athletes I know, including myself, have found that kids, generally, really enjoy riding in joggers and bike trailers — for a reasonable amount of time, anyway, like an hour or less. Younger babies tend to fall asleep, while older kids like to watch the scenery pass by. My son even yells for me to ‘go faster!' sometimes."

Francie Larrieu Smith, former Olympic runner and cross-country coach at Southwestern University

"I am a dog person, and a dog can be the best incentive to go out the door for a daily jog. Once a dog becomes conditioned to go for a daily run, they expect to be taken out daily."

Whitney Hedgepeth, former Olympic swimmer and swim coach at Longhorn Aquatics

"Get up early and do it before the kids wake up. If you don't get it done, then it hangs over your head all day, and usually it won't happen because the kids' activities, homework, dinner, etc. are more important. I try to get in at least a 30-minute or 3-mile run per day. Great de-stresser."