“Ideas worth spreading”: this is the slogan of the TED (Technology, Engineering, and Design) organization. It informs every TED Talk that they curate. Speakers run the gamut from everyday people to world-renowned scientists, artists, and thinkers. These ten to 20-minute gems offer a brief glimpse into the world. They provide a peek that might inspire you or transform the way you think about life. Health and well-being is the lively topic of many TED Talks. Here we share some of the most thought-provoking TED Talks on health, healthier living, and understanding pain.

9 TED Talks on health and pain

These TED Talks on health cover everything from how different medications interact to how to handle a life when you’re suffering from an undiagnosed medical condition. You’ll also learn about the origins of pain management and why chronic pain is such a mystery to so many researchers.

1. The Amazing Story Of The Man Who Gave Us Modern Pain Relief: Latif Nasser

Pain wasn’t always taken seriously. It wasn’t until wrestler and doctor John J. Bonica started persuading the medical world to focus on it that it happened. If you haven’t heard his name, you’re not alone. Nasser explains:

“I found a story — a fantastic story —of a man who saved — rescued — millions of people from pain;people like my mom.Yet, I had never heard of him.There were no biographies of him, no Hollywood movies.His name was John J. Bonica.But when our story begins,he was better known as Johnny “Bull” Walker.”

2. What Happens When You Have A Disease Doctors Can’t Diagnose: Jennifer Brea

Chronic fatigue syndrome, or myalgic encephalomyelitis, is a condition that can have devastating effects on a person’s life but can be highly difficult to diagnose. One sufferers talks about the obstacles she’s come up against in getting a diagnosis and getting treatment for her condition.

3. Why Medicine Often Has Dangerous Side Effects For Women: Alyson McGregor

We’ve talked on the blog on the gender disparities in pain management. Much of that comes down to how medicine is actually studied on a primarily male population. This fascinating TED Talk on health and what you have to ask your doctor is a must-watch.

4. How Do We Heal Medicine?: Atul Gawande

Acclaimed medical writer gives one of the most timely and riveting TED Talks on health. As the intro explains:

“Our medical systems are broken. Doctors are capable of extraordinary (and expensive) treatments, but they are losing their core focus: actually treating people. Doctor and writer Atul Gawande suggests we take a step back and look at new ways to do medicine — with fewer cowboys and more pit crews.”

5. Your Genes Are Not Your Fate: Dean Ornish

With so much new research on genetic screening for hereditary conditions, Dean Ornish argues that changes in lifestyle can change what your genes predict. Ornish notes:

“When you eat healthier, manage stress, exercise and love more, your brain actually gets more blood flow and more oxygen. But more than that, your brain gets measurably bigger.”

He goes on to say that although our genes may predispose us to certain conditions, but they are not our fate.

6. What Really Happens When You Mix Medications: Russ Altman 

This fascinating talk dives into how Google searches is helping one researcher find out how different medications interact when people take them together. As he explains:

The reason it deserves attentionis that patients are telling us their side effects indirectlythrough their searches.”

What these researchers find could influence how you later take and receive prescriptions for different medications.

7. The Mystery Of Chronic Pain: Elliot Krane

Pediatrician Elliot Krane starts his serious talk with a funny joke, but what he talks about is no laughing matter. He discusses chronic pain, the disease that starts out as a symptom of something else and then becomes its own condition. His clear and compassionate discussion of what happens in the body of a person suffering from chronic pain is a must-watch for anyone with chronic pain or who has a loved one who has this condition.

8. The Problem With Race-Based Medicine: Dorothy Roberts

This is one of the most important TED Talks on health for so many. As the intro explains:

“Race-based medicine is bad medicine. Even today, many doctors still use race as a medical shortcut; they make important decisions about things like pain tolerance based on a patient’s skin color instead of medical observation and measurement. In this searing talk, Roberts lays out the lingering traces of race-based medicine — and invites us to be a part of ending it.”

9. A Doctor’s Case For Medical Marijuana: David Casarett

Casarett explains:

“A lot of the patients I talked with who’ve turned to medical marijuana for help, weren’t turning to medical marijuana because of its benefits or the balance of risks and benefits, or because they thought it was a wonder drug, but because it gave them control over their illness. It let them manage their health in a way that was productive and efficient and effective and comfortable for them.”

Watch on for one doctor’s take into this controversial treatment approach.

15 Of The Best TED Talks On Health And Pain | PainDoctor.com

6 TED Talks to get your health back on track 

Of course, research into medicine and our bodies is only side to health. The other is actionable TED Talks on health with tips you can use to improve your health every day.

10. The Quantified Self: Gary Wolf

In this five-minute talk, Gary Wolf talks about how we can use new tracking apps to “…reflect, learn, remember and want to improve.” He points out how our lives can be affected and improved by new data collecting devices for everything from sleep to asthma attacks and concludes his talk with this thought:

“The self is just our operation center, our consciousness, our moral compass. So, if we want to act more effectively in the world, we have to get to know ourselves better.”

11. Got A Meeting? Take A Walk: Nilofer Merchant

Just one small change can make a huge difference in your life. Merchant suggests that sitting is so ubiquitous that we don’t even think to question the amount of sitting we do everyday. When she couldn’t squeeze in a regular meeting, Merchant suggested a walking meeting and since then has walked and met for 20 to 30 miles every week. She ends her talk with this call to action:

“…walk and talk. Walk the talk. You’ll be surprised at how fresh air drives fresh thinking, and in the way that you do, you’ll bring into your life an entirely new set of ideas.”

12. How Healthy Living Nearly Killed Me: A.J. Jacobs

You wouldn’t think that healthy living could be dangerous to your health or sanity. A.J. Jacobs spent an entire year following expert advice on health for all areas of the body. Applying sunscreen by the shot glass, wearing a helmet while walking down the street, and wiping down all of the germy surfaces in his house were just a few of the changes he made in the quest for healthy living. What he found was that his social network suffered, and although he was much healthier by the end of the year in the traditional sense, healthy living meant also incorporating one important part of life: joy.

13. Why Some People Find Exercising Harder Than Others: Emily Balcetis

In this talk about the science of vision and perception, social psychologist Emily Balcetis discusses how individual brains perceive things differently. This different vision can affect how people perceive the task of exercise, making some individuals literally see it as harder than others. Even the shape of our bodies influences our motivation, persistence, and understanding of the effort needed to reach a goal. Understanding these factors, she argues:

“We can teach ourselves to see [the world and exercise] differently, and when we find a way to make the world look nicer and easier, it might actually become so.”

14. Own Your Body’s Data: Talithia Williams

“By taking ownership of your data just like we’ve done, just by taking this daily measurements about yourself, you become the expert on your body.”

In this lively talk sprinkled with humor and personal anecdotes, statistician Talithia Williams asserts that tracking data on ourselves is the best way to take control of our lives and our health. Keeping simple statistics on the daily rhythms of our bodies helps us become the authority that we need to be to advocate for ourselves.

15. All It Takes Is Ten Mindful Minutes: Andy Puddicombe

In this less-than-ten-minute talk, Andy Puddicombe extols the virtues of taking ten minutes daily to do nothing: no talking, texting, eating, reading, or drinking. He advocates being in the present moment as a way to deal with stress and unhappiness, pointing out that “on average, our minds are lost in thought almost 47% of the time.” With just a bit of focus, some of that 47% can be used to our benefit by just being mindful and aware in the moment we are in. Just ten minutes a day can “impact our entire life.”

More TED Talks on health 

These are just a sampling of TED talks on health and well-being. A cursory search for the term “health” finds a playlist of talks on taking charge of your healthcare, a talk on why healthcare should be a team sport, and another playlist of talks on what’s wrong with what we eat.

TED Talks on health are a great way to think differently about the world around us, and they are just short enough to slide easily into our day.

What TED Talks on health and pain are you most interested in seeing? Do you have a favorite? Share it with us in the comments!


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