22 Best Health Documentaries to Inspire a Fit Lifestyle

Healthy lifestyle documentaries are incredibly motivating and have the power to inspire viewers to take charge of their health. Watching someone become fitter, stronger, and healthier encourages people to get moving and exercise more often. Documentaries that chronicle a weight loss journey are often catalysts for viewers to make important changes to their diet such as cutting out sugar and limiting processed foods.

This is evident in the popularity of films like "Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead," which proves that there's something very compelling about watching other people overcome obstacles to achieve their health and fitness goals. But wellness documentaries can also be investigative and informative, often shedding light on the link between diet and disease.

The next time you're at home scrolling through titles on Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon and wondering what you should be streaming, the following must-see health and fitness documentaries are sure to stoke your inner fire for living a healthier life.

1

Free Solo

"Free Solo" (2018) follows professional rock climber Alex Honnold as he attempts the first free solo climb of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, CA. Rock climbing is a serious sport that puts mental and physical strength to the ultimate test. Watching Honnold attempt the unforgiving 900-meter vertical rock face is nothing short of a nail-biter and can inspire viewers to face their fears.

2

The Game Changers

This 2018 documentary starring Arnold Swarzenegger and former UFC fighter James Wilks follows Wilks around the world as he shares what he's learned about meat and protein to inspire others to change their diet and lifestyle. Wilks, who is vegan, wants to show other athletes that they can still get strong and build muscle by choosing plant-powered protein.

3

What the Health

"What the Health" (2017) is a provocative follow-up to the 2014 documentary "Cowspiracy." The film examines the relationship between diet and chronic disease and investigates corruption in the healthcare, pharmaceutical, and food industries.

4

Fed Up

Narrated by Katie Couric, "Fed Up" (2014) details the missteps of the first federal dietary guidelines issued by the United States government in 1980. The guidelines failed to address the role that sugar had on increasing rates of obesity, diabetes, and related health conditions, especially those occurring in children. It is a call to action that aims to shed light on America's obesity epidemic and poor health crisis.

5

That Sugar Film

This Australian documentary from Damon Gameau takes a deep dive into the harmful effects that hidden sugar can have on the body. For 60 days, Gameau followed a relatively healthy low-fat diet combined with regular exercise but also consumed 40 teaspoons of hidden sugar a day, which had detrimental effects on his health. For instance, he developed fatty liver disease during the first 18 days.

"That Sugar Film" (2014) helped increase global awareness of the dangers of added sugars in common foods.

6

The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young

"The Barkley Marathons" (2014) is a sports documentary that chronicles an unusual endurance event often described as a "cult-like race" that draws people from all over the world. The film features a cast of quirky characters engaged in extraordinary feats of mental and physical strength such as journeying through a long underground tunnel that passes beneath a prison.

While the film may not inspire viewers to enroll in this particular race, it could motivate them to sign up for another event that's outside of their comfort zone.

7

Forks Over Knives

"Forks Over Knives" (2011) has made many viewers rethink their meat-centric habit of burgers and fries. This film delves into the health challenges the U.S. currently faces and whether consuming whole food, plant-based diets could be the remedy that people need.

If the documentary inspires to you makeover your pantry and fridge, the ​Forks Over Knives website has lots of recipes and tips to help you make the transition to a plant-based diet.

8

Bikes vs. Cars

If you've ever thought about starting a bike commute to improve your health while reducing environmental pollution, it's time to watch "Bikes vs. Cars."

This 2015 documentary dives into what it takes to make bike commuting a safe endeavor, the challenges activists often face, and ultimately, the many benefits of adopting the commuter lifestyle. It doesn't come without obstacles, but the payoff can be huge.

9

Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead

Australian Joe Cross directs and stars in this well-known 2011 film that tells the story of his battle with obesity and autoimmune disease. For 60 days, Cross drank only fruit and vegetable juices to charge of his health. Then he traveled around the U.S. to share his journey and teach others about the importance of proper nutrition and health.

Cross continues to stay on track with his health goals by consuming a balanced diet that includes juicing and getting plenty of exercise.

10

Hungry for Change

If you're constantly feeling confused and disillusioned by the diet industry, you're not alone. The filmmakers behind "Hungry for Change" (2012) help uncover the secrets and deceptive marketing strategies employed by the food and health industries to keep you buying new products in the search for wellness.

The good news is, knowledge is power. Understanding how these industries work can help you can make better decisions about your health without draining your bank account.

11

Bigger Stronger Faster

This 2008 documentary takes a hard look at the use of performance-enhancing drugs in the pursuit of—you guessed it—becoming bigger, stronger, and faster. Filmmaker and film subject, Chris Bell, leaves you asking the question, "Is it really worth it?" Hopefully, you'll agree, the answer is "no."

12

Froning: The Fittest Man in History

The 2015 documentary follows Froning as he pursues his fourth CrossFit Games title, diving into his life as more than just an athlete, but as a son, father, and husband, proving that deep down, he's not all that different from the average human being.

Whether Rich Froning is actually the fittest man in history is up for debate, but this CrossFit legend is certainly a force to be reckoned with.

13

Occupation Fighter

For a "never give up" message of inspiration, look no further than the 2012 documentary "Occupation: Fighter." This film follows a hopeful MMA athlete for 8 months through the trials and tribulations of the sport, the sacrifices he makes while training, and the drive it takes to stay hopeful in the face of adversity.

14

American Weightlifting

Not all athletes win multi-million dollar contracts or endorsement deals. In fact, many athletes pursue their sports while holding down full-time jobs and juggling family life while trying to figure out how to pay for coaches, training sessions, and the equipment required to excel.

"American Weightlifting" (2013) is a documentary that takes an inside look at the hard-core athletes of Olympic weightlifting in the U.S.—the men and women who receive almost no financial support but still train and compete internationally. It's a hard road, but when you're passionate about achieving your goals, it seems every sacrifice is worth it.

15

Marathon Challenge

The NOVA documentary "Marathon Challenge" (2007) proves that with the right training and support, practically anyone can accomplish a major fitness challenge—even running a marathon.

The film follows 13 generally sedentary adults as they lace up their running shoes and get to work. Individually and together they learn what it takes to drastically change their lifestyles, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

16

Road to the Games

If you've ever wondered what it takes to train and compete in the CrossFit Games, then it's time to sit down and watch the "Road to the Games" TV series (2016–2020) that follows amateur CrossFit athletes as they train, eat, and live their everyday lives. The docuseries provides an honest look at the joys and challenges so often faced by those who strive to be the best.

17

Pumping Iron

Was the '70s the golden age of bodybuilding? If you're not sure, the classic 1977 documentary "Pumping Iron" may convince you. It takes a partly-true, partly-scripted look at amateur and professional bodybuilding competitors, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lou Ferrigno, and what it takes to succeed in such a highly competitive sport.

18

From Fat to Finish Line

"From Fat to Finish Line" (2015) follows a cast of real-life characters as they seek to support each other on their ongoing fitness journeys. When 12 people who all lost 100 pounds team up to undertake a 200-mile relay race together, the documentary chronicles their shared experiences, laughter, commiseration, and tears.

19

Spirit of the Marathon

There's nothing quite like crossing the finish line after a hard-won, grueling race like the Chicago Marathon. Watching "Spirit of the Marathon" (2007) may give you a glimpse into what you can expect. This documentary follows six runners from all walks of life as they train for and compete in the iconic race.

20

Enlighten Up!

Yoga has morphed from a fringe spiritual practice to a popular fitness trend, and "Enlighten Up!" filmmaker, Kate Churchill, was convinced yoga could transform anyone, even a serious skeptic.

So Churchill enlisted Nick Rosen, the 2008 film's guinea pig, to engulf himself in the world of yoga, traveling near and far to learn about the practice ​and the people who practice it.

21

Hood to Coast

"Hood to Coast" (2011) is an adventure race. A team challenge. A limit-pushing physical feat. And now, it's a documentary with the same name. Every year, hundreds of teams of runners lace up their shoes and take off in packs, following roads from Mount Hood in Oregon all the way to the Pacific Coast.

The total race covers almost 200 miles of often-challenging terrain, and most racers are simply everyday people pushing themselves to do extraordinary things. This documentary reminds you that you really can do anything, especially when surrounded by friends.

22

Bicycle Dreams

Race Across America is considered one of the toughest bicycle races in the world, if not the toughest. Competitors cycle across the U.S. in just 10 days, pushing themselves to scale mountains and push through brutal weather conditions, all to say they did it.

"Bicycle Dreams" (2009) follows racers as they undertake an incredible physical journey, but the mental challenge becomes even harder after one of the competitors is killed in a head-on collision.

A Word From Verywell

The stories included in these movies and docuseries included are all very different, yet they share a common thread of inspiring others to reach their and fitness goals and make healthier dietary choices.

While we don’t endorse any one of these techniques (for instance, drinking only juice for 60 days should not be attempted without medical advice or supervision), we do appreciate the positive and motivating messages behind these productions.

Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to health and weight loss, and what worked for someone else may not work well for you. The best method to stay healthy at any size is to listen to your body, follow a nutrient-rich, well-balanced eating pattern, and get plenty of exercise. For personalized advice, check with your doctor or consult a nutritionist or registered dietician to determine the right plan for you.

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  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1980 Dietary Guidelines.

  2. Gameau D. World Cancer Research Fund International. 40 spoons of sugar a day: the story behind That Sugar Film. September 1, 2015.