This is the season for parties, pageants, shopping, wrapping, cooking, baking, family visits -- and, oh yeah, trying to carve out time in that whirlwind to work out.

"Exercise gets sacrificed when people decide they just can't squeeze it into their hectic schedules," said Mark Blegen, who heads the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Sciences at St. Catherine University in St. Paul.

"But you don't have to choose between fitness and holiday activities," he added. "It doesn't have to be either/or."

You can keep physically active by harnessing your creativity, he and other fitness experts say. There are shortcuts, ways to combine the busyness of the season with the satisfaction of staying in shape.

Some health clubs, such as Hell Bent Fitness in Minneapolis and several CrossFit centers, are trying to help out by offering afternoon and weekend kid-workout sessions while parents get in an hour of quality exercise.

"We just got it started as a holiday thing, but we'd like to continue it into next year," said Hell Bent owner Jason Loesch.

After school on Thursdays, his wife, an elementary school teacher, takes kids 4 and older and gives them a snack, then exercise, then homework time.

But if you're so jammed up that you can't make it to the health club, there are plenty of other ways to keep moving those muscles, Loesch said.

Here are five ways to keep fit without sacrificing the season's festivities.

1. Shop with gusto

That trip to the mall can do double duty when you make it a family outing for walking off calories. When you shop, choose the farthest parking spot you can find and hike to the mall entrance. This might actually be faster than driving around looking for a parking space that's closer to the front door.

2. Take it outdoors

Now that we finally have decent snow, head outside with your kids or friends to make something as simple as a snowman or to toss a few snowballs around. Break out your cross-country skis or rent snowshoes at state or regional parks. Or just take a hike with family members or friends to enjoy holiday lights and see how well your neighbors cleared snow from their driveways.

3. Spare time, gimme nine

Use TV time to stretch, bend and do a few floor exercises, such as sit-ups or "30-second planks" (hold your body in a "stiff-board" position on forearms and toes for 30 seconds, rest and repeat). Get up and walk around the house; go up and down steps with small loads of laundry; take the dog out for a bonus walk.

4. Work is for movement

Don't just sit at your desk. Break up the day every hour, if possible, with a brisk walk around the building or hoof it up and down the stairs a few times, even if just for 10 minutes. It will give you both a physical and mental energy boost.

5. Party time

Go ahead and eat those sweets and heavy holiday dishes at parties, but drink a couple of glasses of water first to curb your appetite. Move around as you socialize with friends -- be the life of the party. Go ahead and stick your neck out. Lead people in some lively songs or games.

Don't forget: You can take the new fitness tricks you test out this season and apply them year-round, a way to enhance your normal exercise routines.

And if you don't have a normal fitness routine, taking on some of these activities can put you on a glide path toward a healthier lifestyle -- maybe your next New Year's resolution. But you don't need to wait.

"Resolutions do not have to start Jan. 1," said Loesch, the fitness club owner. "People can start anytime."

Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253