The 22 Best TED Talks for Fitness, Health, and Happiness Inspiration
If you have access to the Internet, you’ve likely seen one: We’re talking about TED Talks.
These live-recorded videos are inspirational life lessons from experts in fields from architecture to cardiology and everywhere in between brought (for free) to Internet audiences by TED, a non-profit dedicated to “Ideas Worth Spreading.”
There are now thousands of “Talks” on the site — mid-sized videos each with its own “ah-ha!” message or insight. But with so much inspiring to be had, where do you even start looking for innovative talks on fitness, health, and happiness?
To help curate this free, digital resource, Greatist selected 22 Ted Talks that offer something simple and motivating to apply to everyday life. Whether you want to push your workout limits, eat less meat, or stop wasting time at work, these videos can act as starting points for your next small step in the right direction.
1. Christopher McDougall: Are We Born to Run?
Using his knowledge of evolution, anthropologist and author Christopher McDougall explains the surprising ways that running helped early humans run their world. McDougall’s explanation of why humans are built to move will inspire you to hit the road.
2. David Blaine: How I Held My Breath for 17 Minutes
You may know David Blaine as the crazy-impressive magician who endured living in a block of ice for 63 hours and balanced standing atop a 22-inch wide pole 100 feet in the air for 35 hours. (No big deal.) Here, he talks about what it took to train and execute his Guinness World Record-breaking 17 minutes under water — including all of the failure, fighting, and pain that went into it. Blaine is inspirational for how he trained like crazy and push towards breaking through a plateau, no matter the obstacles. (Just be aware — holding your breath for 17 minutes is not recommended.)
3. Matt Cutts: Try Something New for 30 Days
Matt Cutts, an engineer at Google, explains how trying just one new thing every day for a month was a fun, rewarding, and eye-opening experience for him. Have you always wanted to try yoga, kickboxing, or maybe golf? Cutts says 30 days is long enough to form a habit and stick with it, but short enough that you won’t go crazy if you eventually dislike it.
4. Ben Saunders: Why Bother Leaving the House?
Ben Saunders is an extreme polar explorer — in fact, he was the youngest person ever to ski to the North Pole. And this year, he’s going to attempt to walk from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole (and back again). In this talk, he explains why apps and living room workouts deprive us of the “meat of life,” found only in the great outdoors. No need to live by yourself in the artic like Saunders, but his talk might inspure you to rediscover the joy in exercising outdoors.
5. Derek Sivers: Keep Your Goals to Yourself
Between controversial “fitspo” on Pinterest and the many blogs solely focused on weight, it can seem like just sharing your health and fitness goals leads to success. Derek Sivers, a professional musician, argues the opposite. Watch to learn the science behind his claim that telling someone your goals decreases the likelihood you’ll reach them.
6. John Wooden: The Difference Between Winning and Success
John Wooden knows what it means to win. The former UCLA basketball coach led his team to winning seasons for more than 40 years. But according to Wooden, "winning" doesn’t necessarily equal "success." In this talk, Wooden preaches discipline, leadership, and hard work.
7. Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are
Amy Cudy is a social psychologist who studies how humans judge and influence each other. Body language, she reveals, can also play a huge role in how we feel about ourselves. It turns out that even a simple change in your stance can lead to more confidence and less stress.
8. A.J. Jacobs: How Healthy Living Nearly Killed Me
Have you ever wondered what would happen if you followed every single piece of health advice you ever heard? Well, luckily, you don’t have to, since that’s pretty much what A.J. Jacobs did (and we don’t recommend it). Jacob’s hilarious experience is a great reminder that in an overwhelming world of health and fitness advice, it's important to go one step at a time, maintain a sense of humor, and keep perspective about what’s most important in life.
9. Jamie Oliver: Teach Every Child About Food
Jamie Oliver is fighting to reduce obesity rates in America (and his home country, the U.K.). His passion for this topic jumps off the stage in this TED talk. He’s not afraid to tell us exactly how bad the obesity epidemic is and exactly how much work it’s going to take to fix it.
10. Mary Roach: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Orgasm
From orgasmic tooth-brushing sessions to orgasms after death, here are 10 orgasm facts and stories way beyond what you could learn from Cosmo. Mary Roach is a science journalist with a sense of humor, and it shows in this funny and surprisingly educational talk.
11. Graham Hill: Why I’m a Weekday Vegetarian
The science is still hotly debated on whether there are potentially negative environmental and health consequences of eating meat. Graham Hill can relate to not wanting to give up meat forever while als diving right into the controversy. Hill gives up meat Monday through Friday and eats all the bacon he wants on Saturday and Sunday. Healthy living doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Hill explains why a binary solution isn’t always better.
12. Dan Buettner: How to Live to be 100+
The human body, on average, lives to the age of 90 — but most people pass away about 12 years short of that. Dan Buettner explores the globe for National Geographic, and he found the four areas of the world with the longest lifespans. The secret to longevity and vitality goes way beyond genes or even healthy choices — he believe it’s also about social interactions and cultural beliefs.
13. Daniel Kraft: Medicine’s Future? There’s an App for That
Every day there’s a new and exciting development in health technology, but that doesn’t mean we’re utilizing these tools to their fullest. Daniel Kraft discusses the importance of amping up the technology used in healthcare and leveraging these powerful tools for diagnostics, data sharing, and insight into personal health.
14. Dean Ornish: Healing Through Diet
According to Dean Ornish, not only can your body heal itself, but it wants to. Ornish uses humor and powerful information to explain why healthy choices make life not just longer, but better. This talk is a reminder that good nutrition shouldn’t be reserved just for weight loss, but used instead to enhance health and prevent problems before they appear.
15. Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work
Shawn Achor researches and teaches positive psychology. He’s also funny, and he’s got a big idea about productivity. Here, Achor breaks down the way we educate, work, and parent to show that happiness has to come before success.
16. Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability
Brené Brown studies human connection, shame, and vulnerability. She fills these 20 engaging minutes with personal anecdotes, empathy, and humor, leaving us with a new perspective on the power of embracing discomfort.
17. Meg Jay: Why 30 is Not the New 20
Listen up, 20-somethings! This talk may scare the living daylights out of you, but it’s worth the watch. Meg Jay is the author of “The Defining Decade.” She boldly calls on 20-somethings, telling them to refuse to throw away what could be the most important 10 years of their lives. Don’t worry — she’ll tell you how, too.
18. Nigel Marsh: How to Make Work-Life Balance Work
Struggling to balance a career with a thriving personal life is hard for most adults, yet there are few resources that address how to tackle this problem. Author Nigel Marsh points out that the only person who can set and enforce boundaries between work and home life is you. His approach to happiness is all about balancing physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
19. Dan Gilbert: The Surprising Science of Happiness
Surprise! The things we think we want (billions of dollars, a flawless body, a new love interest) don’t actually make us happy. So what does? Psychologist and Harvard professor Dan Gilbert explains our brains aren’t actually that great at predicting what will lead to happiness — and he helps us discover what will.
20. Matt Killingsworth: Want to be Happier? Stay in the Moment
Throughout Matt Killingsworth’s research on happiness, he asked more than 600,000 people to report on their happiness levels and whether they were thinking about the past, the present, or the future. Killingsworth learned that dwelling on plans can actually make us unhappy. Instead, we should embrace and focus on what’s going on in our lives right now.
21. Stefan Sagmeister: The Power of Time Off
This TED Talk is a must watch for anyone in a creative field. Designer Stefan Sagmeister takes a whole year off from work every seven years. Does that seem extreme? Once you hear about the way time off helped Sagmeister innovate, create, and improve every area of his work, you might not think so. He also gives practical solutions for the average person who can’t afford a whole year off, starting with better-scheduling your free time.
22. Paul Zak: Trust, Morality… and Oxytocin?
Oxytocin is pretty much the coolest hormone ever for neurologist Paul Zak. Here, he explains how oxytocin can increase trust, generosity, and charity, while also connecting us to others. His findings about why certain people lack this happy little hormone are equally interesting. We had a major “Science is amazing!” moment during this talk.
Have a favorite Ted Talk? Let us know in the comments below or tweet the author @skoppelkam.
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