12 Must-Watch TED Talks for the Health Minded

As they say, knowledge is power. And having more information about your health, whether it’s fitness, nutrition or medical information, will help you make better decisions about how best to take care of yourself.

Sharpen your health and fitness knowledge with these 12 TED Talks. (Image: iStock/RyanJLane)

Here are 12 equally inspiring and informing TED Talks that can do just that. Chock-full of simple life hacks that can have amazing effects on your physical and mental health, these short videos contain words of wisdom you need to make an immediate part of your regular health regimen.

1. Graham Hill: Why I’m a Weekday Vegetarian

Why does vegetarianism have to be a binary, all-or-nothing proposition? In less than six minutes, sustainability expert Graham Hill shows you that going three-quarters of the way can make a huge difference for your health and the planet. The best part of Hill’s weekday vegetarian plan? It’s one you might actually stick with.

2. Ron Finley: A Guerilla Gardener in South Central L.A.

It’s one thing to make yourself healthier. It’s something else entirely to do the same for the litter-strewn patch of dirt by the liquor store. Finley is a legendary figure in Los Angeles for his ability to take forgotten green spaces and turn them into healthful bounties for the whole neighborhood. His philosophy? “Gardening is the most therapeutic and defiant act you can do, especially in the inner city,” he says. “Plus, you get strawberries.” And who doesn’t love fresh, homegrown strawberries?

3. Mark Bittman: What’s Wrong With What We Eat?

Less meat; less junk; more plants. Mark Bittman, beloved cookbook author and former New York Times columnist, seems to have a way of making healthful, purposeful eating seem a lot less complicated. Here, he puts his philosophy in historical and societal perspective in a way that’s memorable and often very funny. His subject matter, though -- saving ourselves and the world by changing the way we think about food -- couldn’t be more serious.

4. Kelly McGonical: How to Make Stress Your Friend

Let face it: Even if you do yoga twice a week and have a lovely beach vacation each summer, you’re probably never 100 percent stress-free. A better plan: Change the way you think. In this potentially life-changing (and life-extending) talk, psychologist Kelly McGonical shows that the real danger of stress is not what it does to us but in how we think about and process it. It turns out that doing stressful work that we also find joy in may be saving us, not sending us to our doom. “Chasing meaning is better for your health than trying to avoid discomfort,” she says.

5. Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Can posing like Superman or Wonder Woman for two minutes turn you into a superhero? Well, not exactly, but your body language, or nonverbal communication, as experts like social psychologist Amy Cuddy like to call it, has a direct effect on the hormones your body produces, and thus how your mind processes information. Your body can indeed change your mind, so in your next job interview or important meeting, spend time beforehand reaching for the sky rather than slumping in your chair. It may make all the difference.

6. Ron Gutman: The Hidden Power of Smiling

Kids do it 400 times a day. Adults, if they are fortunate, do it about 20 times a day. Once again, the youngsters have the right idea. Not only is smiling a crucial aspect of our mental health regimen, explains TEDx Silicon Valley organizer Ron Gutman in this perfectly illustrated talk, but every time we sport a toothy grin, we inspire even more healthful smiles in the people around us. Turns out, one smile can provide the same amount of brain stimulation as 2,000 bars of chocolate -- and you don’t have to deal with the wrappers (or the calories).

7. Sandra Aamodt: Why Dieting Usually Doesn’t Work

We may know intrinsically that dieting doesn’t really work, but there’s still something comforting about hearing a neuroscientist explain why that is. With a deft combination of personal stories and brain science, Sandra Aamodt not only walks viewers through all the pitfalls of dieting, she also guides them toward healthful solutions that actually do work. Says Aamodt: “You can take control of your health by taking control of your lifestyle, even if you can’t lose weight.”

8. Nancy Etcoff: Happiness and Its Surprises

Do you deserve happiness? Freud didn’t think so. And the father of psychoanalysis’s pessimism regarding its pursuit may be why happiness has been such an understudied subject. Here, evolutionary psychologist Nancy Etcoff flips the happiness script. It turns out that despite what Stuart Smalley tells us, true joy has less to do with self-esteem than we think. She points out that while happiness is an evolutionary necessity, there are ways that evolution trips us up during our search for it.

9. Laura Trice: The Power of Saying Thank You

Thanking your partner for doing last night’s dishes or for picking up the dry cleaning for your presentation the next day isn’t just a nice thing to do, it may be the key to world peace. And while reminding people that you’re in need of praise may be awkward and make you feel vulnerable, recovery specialist and life coach Laura Trice demonstrates in this brief-but-powerful presentation, it’s actually crucial to finding real happiness. In other words, you’re welcome.

10. Alanna Shaikh: How I Am Preparing to Get Alzheimer’s

You’re working out. You’re eating right. You’re doing all the things you need to protect yourself against Alzheimer’s. Sadly, that may not be enough, especially if it runs in your family. “If the monster wants you, the monster is going to get you,” says global health specialist Alanna Shaikh, whose father was in the final stages of the disease during the time of her talk in 2012. Instead of living in denial or blind hope, Shaikh lays out what we can do to prepare, from developing new hobbies to trying to be a better person.

11. Aubrey de Grey: A Roadmap to End Aging

We work hard to cure diseases like malaria. So why aren’t we attacking the effects of aging, which kills more people than any other disease, with the same rigor? British aging researcher Aubrey de Grey -- whose epic beard and mustache would make him a great Brooklyn bartender or Major League ballplayer -- says that the therapies are there and that we may have already met the individual who will be our first 1,000-year-old person.

12. Meaghan Ramsey: Why Thinking You Are Ugly Is Bad for You

We tend to think of low body confidence as a personal problem, when in truth it’s a global one. A young woman who believes she is ugly is less likely to raise her hand in class and more likely to make unhealthy choices for herself. But unlike many global problems, this inspiring speech points out that this is something we can start fixing today. Positive change can start with something as simple as changing the way we comment on social media. And the next time you see your reflection in a mirror, it’s alright to give it a kiss.

What Do YOU Think?

Do you watch TED Talks? Have you seen any of these? Which ones were your favorites? Which ones do you plan to watch because they’re on our list? Are there any you think we should have included on the list? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below!

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