How the Cozy Cardio trend changed my relationship with working out for good

 (TikTok / Hope Zuckerbrow)
(TikTok / Hope Zuckerbrow)

When Hope Zuckerbrow first shared a TikTok of her Cozy Cardio routine, she didn’t expect her video to launch an entirely new fitness movement. Really, Cozy Cardio simply began as a way for Zuckerbrow to get her body moving in the morning. Now, hundreds of workout fanatics and beginners alike are joining the Cozy Cardio wave… including me.

Cozy Cardio is exactly as it sounds; it’s a low-impact cardio workout done within the comfort of a cozy environment. It’s all about making exercise feel good, rather than it being another task to check off your to-do list. While the fitness trend tends to consist of ambient lighting, gentle movement, and watching your favourite movie or TV show, according to Zuckerbrow, Cozy Cardio really is different for everyone.

“I think a lot of people have tried to put Cozy Cardio in a box,” Zuckerbrow told The Independent. “They see what I do and they think it simply means getting on a walking pad, lighting some candles, and walking for a while. I think it’s super important to clarify that Cozy Cardio is really just a concept - whatever cozy means to you, that’s how you should make your surroundings.”

In Zuckerbrow’s very first viral Cozy Cardio video - which has been viewed more than 1.8m times on TikTok since it was posted in July 2023 - the 25-year-old Texas native began her morning at 5.15am with a large glass of ice water and a protein coffee. She lit a few candles and decorated her living room with red and green ambient lighting, before warming up on her Soozier walking pad. After 40 minutes had passed, Zuckerbrow showed viewers that she walked a total of 2.65 kilometres (1.6 miles).

But as she pointed out, Cozy Cardio looks different for everyone. For TikTok user JennNoire, who shared a video of her own Cozy Cardio routine, it included fuzzy socks and an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Meanwhile, TikToker Kaylee shared that incorporating Cozy Cardio into her wellness journey helped her ongoing struggle with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

“For me, I had a really bad relationship with exercise before Cozy Cardio happened,” Zuckerbrow explained. “I had lost 100lbs. I was very harsh on myself. Exercise was not something that I enjoyed. So, I needed something to heal my relationship with movement again, in a way that wasn’t centred around weight loss.”

Much like Zuckerbrow, my own relationship with working out has been one that straddles between love and hate. While I’m a member of my local Planet Fitness, I knew that as soon as January came around, the gym would be full of new attendees looking to get a head start on their fitness-related resolutions. Although I wanted to avoid the crowds, I didn’t want it to detract from my own exercise goals. So when I received a Smart Slim Under Desk Walking Treadpad from Sunny Health Fitness in December, I knew I would make it my New Year’s resolution to become more active with the help of Cozy Cardio. For me, joining the Cozy Cardio movement meant tasking myself with walking two to three miles at least three days a week.

As someone who spends practically 75 per cent of my free time in my bedroom, I knew the small space between my bed frame and my dresser would make the ultimate setting for my Cozy Cardio environment. For each session, I lit my favourite candle from Brooklyn Candle Studio and turned on my essential oil diffuser with a relaxing lavender mist. As a seasoned reality TV enjoyer, I was already aware that the runtime of a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills episode was the perfect length for a 45-minute workout. I set my walking speed to three, and had already broken a sweat by the time one Real Housewife threw a glass of wine in another Real Housewife’s face.

The Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) recommends adults participate in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. In fact, a recent study found that engaging in as little as 20 to 25 minutes of exercise on a daily basis can considerably lower the risks associated with extended periods of sedentary behaviour. According to Leon Bolmeer, fitness expert and director of Geezer’s Boxing, even just a few minutes of movement and cardio can positively impact your health in the long run.

“Despite what some fitness influencers online may want you to believe, you do not have to do a 10k run every day at 5am to see health benefits,” he told The Independent. Not only does regular physical activity strengthen your heart and lungs - as well as reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and other chronic conditions - but it also can improve your mood, lower stress levels, and positively affect your sleeping habits.

“Like most forms of exercise, the goal of Cozy Cardio is to increase people’s health and levels of physical activity,” Bolmeer said. “However, this trend differs due to the fact that it aims to do it in a sustainable way by making it more enjoyable, and reducing the exercise-related anxiety that many people get ahead of playing sports or going to the gym.”

A study published in 2019 found that one in four women avoid exercising at the gym due to a phenomenon known as “gymtimidation”. However, the anxiety that often comes with staking my claim on a treadmill at a crowded gym immediately went away when I began Cozy Cardio. Before she became known as the Cozy Cardio queen, Zuckerbrow experienced similar hesitations about working out at the gym. Instead, she lost 100lbs by working out entirely at home. Now with the help of Cozy Cardio, Zuckerbrow said she has gained the confidence to face her fears.

“I was trying to heal my relationship with exercise when I started doing Cozy Cardio. I never once stepped foot in the gym. I was absolutely terrified of it. You couldn’t convince me,” she explained. “But then I started doing Cozy Cardio and I started walking every day for longer periods each day, and because of that, it somehow made me get the courage to try it at the gym.”

Perhaps the reason why so many people, including myself, have joined the Cozy Cardio movement is because of its accessibility and convenience. While some high-end gym memberships can cost up to $200 per month, doing some cardio - walking, jumping jacks, or weight lifting exercises - is essentially free in the comfort of your own home. According to Zuckerbrow, Cozy Cardio also appeals to those with packed schedules - the “super busy” college student who can’t fit in a crazy workout routine or the stay-at-home mom who “just needs to have a little moment” to herself. Plus, it doesn’t even require putting on a bra. “Cozy Cardio is about saying you don’t need weights, you don’t need a gym, you don’t even need workout clothes, you don’t need to do high impact. It’s about creating something you enjoy,” said Lucy Wyndham-Read, a fitness trainer with more than two million subscribers on YouTube.

Although Cozy Cardio encourages participants to get their bodies moving with low-impact exercises, its ultimate goal is to promote self-care. Zuckerbrow, who began the fitness trend as a way to heal her own relationship with movement, hopes that the phenomenon is ultimately perceived as a “meditational self-love” moment between you and your body.

“While Cozy Cardio is great for weight loss and it’s a great workout if that’s what you’re after, I really encourage, especially women, to take that pressure off of themselves,” she said. “Just try and enjoy it for what it is, and not because it decreases the amount of calories you’ve had for the day. That’s really what I want a lot of women to know about Cozy Cardio.”

Indeed, Cozy Cardio has changed the way I approach exercise. After just one workout on my walking pad, I felt the same accomplished feeling I usually experienced from going to the gym. While there were some moments when I felt bored by walking in place, I tried to spice things up by switching up my television programme or lifting some weights over my head. If all else failed and my boredom wasn’t cured, I would simply end the workout - because that’s what Zuckerbrow intended for Cozy Cardio. Its sole purpose is to get people moving and reconnecting with their body, for how long that may be.

Now that January has ended, and I’ve already abandoned many of my New Year’s resolutions, engaging in just a few minutes of physical activity is one easy goal that I know will extend throughout the entire year, thanks to the help of Cozy Cardio.