Why 'cosy cardio' could make you fall in love with exercise again

cosy cardio
The 'cosy cardio' trend explainedMaria Korneeva - Getty Images

A workout that gives you a free pass to swap skin-tight lycra for knitwear and sweaty trainers for slipper socks may sound too good to be true, but that's exactly what the 'cosy cardio' trend offers. Coined by content creator Hope Zuckerbrow, a video detailing her 5am morning routine of lighting candles and walking on a treadmill while watching a film on TV has amassed over two million views on TikTok. Many have celebrated her ability to make something typically arduous joyful and wholesome, with user comments such as “this makes me want to workout” and “this is something I could actually stick with” flooding her page. As the mornings get lighter and a dawn alarm becomes a little more palatable, could cosy cardio be the secret to loving exercise?

What is cosy cardio?

Essentially, cosy cardio begins by making your environment as welcoming and snug as possible. Hope's video summed this up perfectly – lighting candles, making your favourite morning drink, putting on calming music or a film and lowering the lights to create an enticing atmosphere. “Cosy cardio is all about getting your heart rate up while feeling relaxed and comfortable,” explains James Dabbs, founder of Dabbs Fitness Gym. “Essentially it is low-impact cardio done in a restful environment that you create at home. Think fluffy socks, loungewear or pyjamas, your favourite beverage, and gentle movement.”

The point? To make getting out of bed and into workout mode as seamless and, dare we say, enjoyable as possible to keep motivation at an all-time high. Because, studies have revealed that we’re much more likely to make a habit of behaviours that bring us pleasure – it's called hedonic motivation.

Does cosy cardio offer a good workout?

As lovely as it sounds, we can't help but wonder: what's the catch? With sayings such as 'no pain, no gain' ringing in our ears as we huff and puff our way through a spin class, we've become programmed to think that anything worth having is generally a hard slog. Not so with cosy cardio. “The benefits of exercise still remain,” Dabbs says. “Whether it's walking on a treadmill, doing a gentle cycle ride on the Peloton or a Pilates class online, you can improve your general health and fitness, burn calories and improve your mood whenever and wherever you exercise. It can also be a good option for Spring – what with April showers, or a high pollen count for those who suffer with hay fever at this time of year.”

Strong muscles and lean limbs aside, cosy cardio can also provide a whole host of mental health benefits. “For many, the thought of stepping into a bustling gym filled with people can evoke feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness,” Dr Rina Bajaj, counselling psychologist and author of The Magic in Me says. “The fear of judgment, comparison, or simply feeling out of place can be overwhelming barriers to exercise. Cosy cardio provides a sanctuary where individuals can exercise without the pressure of external scrutiny, allowing them to focus on their physical and mental wellbeing in a space where they feel safe and comfortable.” For those who are time-poor and struggling to fit the gym in between drinks with friends and office over-time, a quick yoga class in your cashmere trakkies could work wonders.

Are there downsides to cosy cardio?

Not so much a catch as much as a consideration; there are a couple of disadvantages to cosying up for your workout. Dabbs warns that the low intensity element won't be as beneficial as high resistance training such as running or HIIT if your goal is to lose weight or improve cardio fitness. “There is also limited variety, and it may become repetitive. Lastly, similarly to working from home, always staying at home can be detrimental to our mental health, and often it may be more beneficial to get outside for a walk and some fresh air, especially as the weather improves for spring and summer,” he says.

Bajaj believes an exercise plateau can be overcome by adapting your workouts such as trying new online classes, increasing the intensity or adding strength training and flexibility exercises to home workouts. She does note, however, that combining cosy cardio with outdoor activities – and even the odd gym session – can lead to progress both mentally and physically. “Exercising at home can be a solitary activity, which may lead to feelings of isolation or loneliness, especially for individuals who thrive on social interaction,” she says. “Utilise online resources and communities to connect with like-minded individuals who share your fitness goals, join virtual workout groups or participate in online challenges or forums. Having a virtual support system can provide motivation, accountability and encouragement.” Apps such as Bumble BFF can be helpful to find like-minded friends while FitBit has a thriving fitness community where you can share your goals and motivate each other.

cosy cardio
Photographer, Basak Gurbuz Derman - Getty Images

How do you do cosy cardio?

This is one workout where no instruction is necessary. “Cosy cardio is very much about you,” Dabbs says. “Build a relaxing (or upbeat, if you prefer) playlist, light your favourite candles, dim the lights, put on your cosiest clothes and pick your workout. The duration doesn't really matter, it depends on how you feel that day – you could start with a ten minute routine and once you've started you may want to extend that to half an hour or an hour.” Whether it's a yoga flow, walking on a walk pad or a Pilates class with resistance bands and hand weights, finding an exercise routine you enjoy is key to building a habitual workout session. The only question is – socks or no socks?

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