Last Updated: December 10th
It’s not easy to maintain a healthy and fit lifestyle. Several factors stand in the way — ill-conceived perceptions of food and exercise, emotional well-being, and economic barriers are only the tip of the iceberg. Time is a massive factor. As is motivation.
On that note, sometimes we all need a reminder of why it’s so important to eat well and move our bodies. The list of Netflix offerings below will give you that extra push in the right direction, help you to better understand the food that’s going into your body, and teach you how best to burn that energy in a positive way. Here are the best health documentaries on Netflix right now.
The Game Changers (2018)
Run Time: 108 min | IMDb: 8.1/10
The Game Changers has been popping off everywhere in 2019. That’s largely thanks to Joe Rogan having Chris Kresser (a functional medicine health coach) and James Wilks (narrator, vegan, and star of the doc) on his podcast to argue out the research and science used in the film. It’s a fascinating listen where both sides make concessions on points about whether a purely plant-based diet is realistic. If listening to a three-plus-hour podcast sounds like a lot of homework for a movie about vegan athletes, there’s a breakdown of the whole conversation and the science in the film on Dr. Chris Masterjohn’s (Ph.D. of Nutritional Sciences) Twitter feed.
All of this makes The Game Changers far more fascinating. It’s rare that a film gets contextualized and broken down point-by-point by actual experts with nothing to gain (some The Game Changers’ producers also own pea protein production facilities). Watch the film, learn how a small group of elite athletes are able to flourish on a plant-based diet, and then dig into the science to see how films like this can be massively enlightening but also maddeningly misleading.
The Creative Brain (2019)
Run Time: 52 min | IMDb: 6.4/10
Neuroscientist David Eagleman takes a long view of how creativity is born in our brains and manifests in real life. The documentary is part science and part mental health via how we chose to express ourselves in our day-to-day lives.
The film talks with a litany of big-name celebrities, inventors, and artists to get to the root of how to better use your brain. Mental exercise and expression become almost synonymous as Eagleman makes a case for brain health stemming from how you choose to be creative with your ideas. It’s a fascinating watch with a high-entertainment draw of cool people talking about their thoughts and creative processes.
What The Health (2017)
Run Time: 97 min | IMDb: 7.5/10
Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn’s 2017 documentary on the industrial food and pharmaceutical system in the United States is an indictment of a system that is killing American citizens. Industrially processed food, lack of mobility, lack of economic stability, and a predatory pharmaceutical industry combine to make a horrific elixir for the average American’s life.
The heart of the film lies in Anderson and Kuhn’s ability to connect the dots between industry profits, lobbying, government, and health organizations and how they all basically work together with profit far more important than health or safety. At times, the reality of this story is enraging but, most of all, it’s eye-opening.
Run Time: 120 min | IMDb: 7.9/10
Doping in sports is a tale as old as time. It’s always been one of those unspoken aspects that everyone, of course, denies for the purity of sport. What makes Icarus so compelling is that it somehow blows up the whole system via the recent Russian doping scandal kind of by accident.
Director Bryan Fogel went into his doc wanting to explore doping in the world of bicycling and ended up uncovering a doping scandal that goes, without hyperbole, all the way to the top in a lot of countries. There are few docs more engaging, enraging, and fascinating to watch than this one.
Born Strong (2017)
Run Time: 85 min | IMDb: 7.2/10
The feats of strength that the strongest men in the world reach are mind-blowing. Born Strong follows four of the strongest men on earth as the train and competes for the title of ‘strongest man alive.’ It’s a fascinating look at the psyche, diligence, and — dare we say — madness that propels these people. It’s exercise taken to the nth degree … to the point where you have to ask if it’s doing more harm than good for the person’s health.
The Magic Pill (2017)
Run Time: 91 min | IMDb: 7.1/10
The Keto diet has been getting a lot of airtime recently from athletes, actors, and doctors around the world. The diet which eschews processed grains, some dairy, and refined sugars in favor of fresh vegetables, proteins, and natural fats has been around for a while as a medical diet to treat severe maladies. So, it’s nothing new. Now, it’s caught on the mainstream and people are finding help with the diet.
Magic Pill takes a fairly health and science-based look at the diet by following several people as they start eating well and continually go to doctors to monitor their health. Results are positive across the board and the future looks bright. It’s an interesting take on a new trend.
The Bleeding Edge (2018)
Run Time: 99 min | IMDb: 7.7/10
The Bleeding Edge plays out a bit like a true crime story only we’re the victims and huge multi-national corporations are the serial killers. Turns out the medical device industry is pretty shady and totally cool with putting faulty hardware and replacements in peoples’ bodies for maximum profit. And when those replacements or devices fail, the patients have to live a life of pain, face more surgery, or die.
The film follows victims of this system and talks to doctors who’ve dealt with the companies and failed devices in their patients to uncover a stark reality of late capitalism. It’s heartening to know there are people out there fighting these giant businesses at the highest levels yet still shudder-inducing knowing that this issue even exists.
Forks Over Knives (2011)
Run Time: 90 min | IMDb: 7.8/10
We’ve become a society obsessed with animal-based proteins. This has an environmental impact that’s horrifyingly dangerous. It’s also led to lifestyle shifts that seemingly have negative effects on our overall health. While some of the stories may be a bit alarmist (like, citing that eastern Asians had zero cases of heart disease and certain cancers before the western diet invaded is a bit hyperbolic without considering reporting or recognition of those diseases in those areas until more recently), the overall message that we need to start eating a lot more plants right now still holds true.
Run Time: Four 50-minute episodes | IMDb: 8.1/10
Michael Pollan has done a lot of deep dives into our food and the culture around over the last few years. This all culminated in the landmark series that looks at what we eat, why we eat, and how we can all eat better. There is no gimmick here. No one’s trying to hawk some fad or trendy foodstuff on you. It’s just an examination of what ‘good food’ means and how to make it a bigger part of your everyday.
Run Time: 12 55-minute episodes | IMDb: 7.1/10
Rotten tackles the entire world of food growing, shipping, and consumption in a six-part documentary. It’s a harrowing look at how we got to a place where fake foods, slavery, and harmful food became common instead of the exception. If you care about what you’re putting in your body, then this is essential viewing. If you care about food, this is essential viewing. If you care about the planet … yup, essential viewing.
Take Your Pills (2018)
Run Time: 87 min | IMDb: 6.4/10
Adderall is a massive part of 21st-century life. Take Your Pills looks at the culture and science around the amphetamine-based drug and asks what’s going on. What’s compelling about this doc is that it doesn’t proselytize one way or another. The film shows you people living well-adjusted lives and thriving thanks to the drug. It also shows you the darkness an amphetamine can bring when abused or simply over-used. Most notably, the film points out that we’re in uncharted waters without any idea of what longterm downsides are. All of that combined makes this one fascinating watch.