When someone mentions the word “cardio”, I’m sure a few things jump to mind immediately – “running”, “HIIT”, “sweat”, or “no thanks” to name a few. What I’m certain doesn’t spring to the forefront is the word “cosy.” In fact, the word cosy might seem like the antithesis to cardio in many ways. Especially if, like me, you’ve been indoctrinated into the school of “no pain, no gain” that seemed to dominate conversations around exercise for so long.
You might believe that cardio is defined by laboured breathing, a bright red face, a skyrocketing heart rate and jelly legs. You do it because it’s good for you, and because of the post-workout euphoria, but it's entirely possible that you don’t look forward to it — or even enjoy it.
Now, of course, TikTok has come along, as it always does, to question the status quo and ask, why can’t cardio be something soft, gentle and – in a word – cosy? The concept of “cosy cardio” began with TikTok creator Hope Zuckerbrow (@hope_zukerbrow) who coined the term when she started posting her early morning cardio routines back in 2022.
Her routines, usually beginning in the early hours, are defined by soft moody lighting – think lamps and fairy-lights. They begin with Zuckerbrow making herself a coffee, lighting a candle and then setting up a comfort television show or movie to watch as she walks on her walking pad. She sometimes wears slippers, sometimes doesn’t, sometimes wears pyjamas, sometimes doesn’t. The walking pad is set to a gentle pace that varies in intensity. The time span is normally 40 or so minutes.
We can raise our heart rates – and our vibes – under our own roofs if we like.
But the exercise itself seems secondary – what “cosy cardio” is all about is the vibe. It’s about creating a ritual, an intention, and a gentleness around the concept of exercise that for many years has been severely lacking. Zuckerbrow said that she started “cosy cardio” as a way to heal her own relationship with exercise, which then transformed into a form of “meditational self-love.”
“I want cozy cardio to be a movement for women to reclaim their relationship with exercise,” she tells her followers. Proving I’m not the only one who viewed cardio through the lens of “it needs to hurt,” Zuckerbrow told her followers that she wanted cosy cardio to push back against the idea of exercise as a form of “punishment” or simply as a means to burn off calories.
This isn’t the first time that TikTok has attempted to reframe our collective attitudes towards exercise. If we consider trends like “soft hiking” or even the “hot girl walk”, these are all exercise-based activities that put mental health or social interaction at the forefront, and de-emphasise aspects like difficulty, distance, and steps walked. Like cosy cardio, it’s all about moving ourselves in ways that are beneficial for both our bodies and our minds.
We don’t need to be dressing ourselves in head-to-toe activewear and slogging it out under fluorescent lighting while aggressive gym music penetrates our supposedly noise-cancelling headphones. We can raise our heart rates – and our vibes – under our own roofs if we like.
There’s definitely something to be said for working to change the mindset that exercise isn’t “legit” unless it’s performed in a gym or to the point of over-exertion. Trends that highlight the different forms of movement we can engage in and prioritise our mental health and comfort over supposed “gainz” are a breath of fresh air – and it would seem that the majority of TikTok agrees. At the time of writing, the #cozycardio hashtag has racked up 1.5 million views.
But don’t think you need to light candles or even buy a walking pad to participate in this trend. Like I said, cosy cardio is less about the activity and all about the vibe. It delighted me to realise I’d been engaging in cosy cardio for weeks without realising when I chucked on my biggest, baggiest, most comfortable hoodie and track-pants and went for a stroll around my local park with a podcast plugged in. It's my version of movement for the sake of pleasure (not pain) – and that’s all “cosy cardio” really is.