What comes to mind when you think about doing cardio? For me (and I suspect I’m not alone in this) it’s tiring exercise, like running or burpees, that takes a lot of motivation to suffer — I mean power — through.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate a good sweat session. I love the flood of endorphins after an intense Barry’s Bootcamp or Orange Theory Fitness class.
But it is in this sweat-crazed climate that Hope Zuckerbrow, a content creator on TikTok, has found her niche preaching a radically different approach. “We all have this idea in our head that working out is very intense. You go to the gym, and you wear your sports bra, and all that stuff,” she tells TODAY.com. “And I don’t think anybody ever told us, hey, moving your body can totally be about watching TV in your pajamas at home.”
Cue the record scratch, right? If you’re unfamiliar with her oeuvre, watch Zuckerbrow’s morning routine — she may well have invented exercise ASMR. It involves lighting a scented candle, queueing up her favorite movies, making an iced protein coffee, and playing around with various sunset and lava lamps for mood lighting. The stage is now set for a surprising activity: A “cozy cardio” workout.
What is ‘cozy cardio’?
“I want ‘cozy cardio’ to be a movement for women to reclaim their relationship with exercise,” Zuckerbrow said in one of her TikTok videos.
What does “cozy cardio” entail?
A cozy space
A tasty drink — for Zuckerbrow it’s a protein coffee and water
A TV show, movie or podcast
Low-impact, easy movement that makes you feel good
Regularly up before dawn because of her boyfriend’s job as a restaurant server, Zuckerbrow came up with the idea one morning when she couldn’t fall back asleep. “I already had coffee in my hand, I had my pajamas on obviously, and my comfort TV show, but I really wanted to move my body and so I ended up hopping on my walking pad,” she recalls. “So I went ahead and pulled out my camera for TikTok. I wrote ‘Cardio… but make it cozy.’ And thus ‘cozy cardio’ was born.”
Before most people were awake, Zuckerbrow had made a dent in her daily steps. She was still wearing the fuzzy pink socks she had slept in. “I’ve always been a cozy gal at heart,” she says.
The first video racked up nearly 2 million views and spawned a successful series that now has thousands of users commenting that it inspired them to get moving. Zuckerbrow is now in the process of trademarking the term and making her own merchandise.
But in addition to the wave of positive feedback, she’s also dealt with her share of trolling, mainly from critics thinking she doesn’t engage in more rigorous forms of exercise.
To the contrary, Zuckerbrow originally started her TikTok account as a weight-loss page. She successfully lost 100 pounds through intense workouts: “None of it was relaxing or self-loving or cozy at all,” she says. Rather, her all-or-nothing attitude toward exercise gave her “a lot of fear and social anxiety about the gym.” Zuckerbrow started gaining some weight back and worried that followers could tell she was not doing well in her health journey. “I just had an absolutely terrible relationship with exercise. And when I started doing this ‘cozy cardio,’ it was to help heal that.”
‘Cozy cardio’: Changing your mindset about fitness
This is a struggle that psychotherapist Charlotte Fox Weber, author of “Tell Me What You Want,” sees often in her practice. “A lot of people are perfectionists about something like exercise, where there’s this fantasy of the optimal self who’s going to do everything 100%,” she says. In contrast to the push-yourself-to-the-max ethos of an Orange Theory Fitness class, “cozy cardio” is about “beginning where you are, rather than setting up an expectation of ideal circumstances,” says Weber. “It’s something that is possible right now. And you can start in a small way, literally, one step at a time.”
Weber sees “lots of clients with body issues.” For them, the ability to exercise alone in a way that’s actually enjoyable “helps when you feel like you don’t want to be on display,” she says. “We’ve become conditioned to think that exercise is social, but for some people it’s a personal choice to prefer exercising without having any witnesses.”
Reframing time spent on a treadmill as something to look forward to rather than something to dread is a strategy Zuckerbrow uses purposefully. “Most of my video is about romanticizing the thought of the exercise. In a minute or minute-and-a-half-long video, you only see me working out or walking for about 20 seconds. The rest is all the fun stuff, making the coffee and setting the lights and lighting the candles. And I think whenever you practice making it fun, it really does become like a meditational self-love moment,” she says.
The health benefits of ‘cozy cardio’
Experts agree: Zuckerbrow is on to something. “That Tiktok video is really comforting,” says Denise Chakoian, the owner and founder of CORE Cycle.Fitness.Lagree. Chakoian has seen her fair share of workout trends during her 30 years in the fitness industry and this is one she thinks could have staying power. “I looked at that and I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a great mindful workout.’ It was low impact, it wasn’t hardcore and she was doing it from her home. And whether you choose that because you’re just getting involved with exercise, or you have a time constraint, or you’re immunocompromised, at the end of the day, we want you to move.”
Chakoian is a cancer survivor who relied on exercise to keep her body strong and her spirits up during chemo. That experience inspired her to become a certified cancer exercise specialist. “With any athlete, your recovery is just as important as your workouts,” she says. “Our bodies are incredible. However, they will get to a point where they will tell you enough is enough.”
Chakoian thinks “cozy cardio” workouts can be great for recovery days. “Whether you just take a very gentle walk around the block, or you’re doing something in your home like yoga stretches, that is actually helpful to prepare yourself for your next, maybe bigger, workout,” she says.
The mental health benefits can also be significant. “I believe that movement is medicine,” Zuckerbrow says. “Every time I get my body moving, it really helps mentally.”
Lowering the barrier to entry for exercise can be also be helpful for those who are intimated by the gym, which can be “a daunting, overwhelming thing,” according to Weber. Like Zuckerbrow, some of Weber’s patients have experienced body shaming. “Especially if you don’t feel athletic, or ready to engage with the super-fit world, I think that a huge mental health benefit of this is not comparing yourself to other people,” Weber says. “Being in your own company and making it pleasant helps when you feel like you don’t want to be on display. You can actually prioritize being comfortable in your own home over worrying about presentation.”
How to incorporate ‘cozy cardio’ into your routine
As viewers on social media continue to be inspired by the trend, Zuckerbrow is thrilled to evangelize for the “pure enjoyment” of moving your body. “I want people to know this isn’t something you have to do at 5 a.m. You can absolutely do ‘cozy cardio’ in the afternoon or at night. ‘Cozy cardio’ is really a mindset about whatever makes you feel best and finding a little bit of ‘you’ time whenever you can.”
For me, the nightly dog walk seemed like a perfect way to incorporate the “cozy cardio” mindset into my routine. I swapped duties with my husband, who’s now doing the morning walk when the vibe is urgent, not relaxed. But at night? I’m already in my pajamas. The bra has been off for hours. I can slip on some shoes and enjoy my New York City neighborhood at its most peaceful, especially this time of year when the fall air is still warm enough to be inviting and holiday decorations are making an appearance. It’s become a nighttime wind-down ritual I cherish — and it only becomes high-intensity if one of us spots a squirrel.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com