Seven life lessons you can learn from your cat

Health and Lifestyle Editor at Bupa UK
27 October 2017

There’s a reason cats have taken over the internet. They possess an impressive combination of admirable qualities and characteristics that we humans can only aspire to. Their behaviours ensure that they stay mentally sharp and in great physical shape. Here, our experts weigh in on seven lessons you can learn from your cat that will benefit your health and wellbeing.

Sleeping cat

Lesson 1: Get enough rest

Cats are experts in lying in sunbeams and rotating every hour or so on the bed or sofa (though one of mine sometimes sleeps in the bath or by the microwave). But wherever they rest their heads, they definitely know how to get enough sleep. Sleep is vital for all animal species including us, and it’s recommended we get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night.

Joao Correia, Lung Centre Lead and Clinical Scientist at Bupa Cromwell Hospital explains more. “Sleep helps us learn. When you’re asleep, new information is moved from the short-term memory (in your hippocampus) to the long-term memory (in your prefrontal cortex). When you wake up, the information is safely stored away and you’re ready and refreshed to learn more new things the next day. It’s just like hitting the ‘save’ button on a document you’ve been working on.

“Sleep is also the time that your brain strengthens memories, puts them in order, brings details to the forefront, cross linking pieces of information to forge new insights. All this helps you to think more creatively and apply new ways of thinking in your daily life.“

Two cats asleep

Hilda and Ash

Lesson 2: Play like no one’s watching

Cats are never too cool to unleash their inner kitten every now and again. If you own a cat you’ll know when your cat is having a funny five minutes – be it racing around the living room, climbing trees or chasing leaves (or their tail). Being silly and having fun is great way to boost your mood and take pleasure in the present moment. If you fancy tapping into your inner kid, try some of these childhood games to bring in the fun factor and get a good workout while doing it.

As a taster, Senior Physiotherapist Lucy Rath explains that: “Hopscotch provides a great all round workout. It’s good for strengthening your legs muscles, especially if you add in a squat jump. It also builds spring strength in your legs and improves coordination and stability, particularly when you land on one leg. This is important to help avoid overloading your hips, knees and ankles during sport or physical activity.”

Cat sitting in a box


Lesson 3: Practise meditation and mindfulness

You’ll have noticed your cat has a great capacity for gazing out the window for seemingly inordinate amounts of time. Often it’s not clear exactly what they are looking at. It could be argued that they are simply taking a break, being mindful or meditating.

Bupa’s Mindfulness Expert, Jane Bozier, explains: “Taking time out for yourself is a very healthy thing to do. We can get caught up in the busyness of day to day living and stop noticing the world around us. Incorporating some alone time in your day, reflecting, is a mindful act which has health benefits such as lowering blood pressure and reducing stress levels. It helps us to be aware of the present moment and positively change how we see ourselves and the world around us.”

Black cat sitting on a roof


Lesson 4: Have a good stretch

Cats know how to indulge in a good and satisfying stretch. They do it several times a day as a matter of course. We can often forget to do this, especially when working at a desk all day.

But stretching is really important for staying flexible and supple.

Our Senior Physiotherapist, Lucie Roux, explains: “Stretching can keep your joints flexible, improve your posture and keep your blood flowing. Yet many people don’t think about doing stretching exercises every day. A good time to do it is in the morning when you get out of bed. Before long it will become part of your morning routine.

The stretches you choose should target your main muscle groups – your arms, neck, back, hips and legs. Twenty seconds is a good amount of time to hold each stretch.” Check out Lucie’s routine for more stretches.

Cat having a stretch


Lesson 5: Get into yoga

Downward dog may be the most well known yoga pose but the Cat pose is easy and a great one for beginners. Imagine your cat rising up and arching its back in a big stretch. Furthermore, it’s very impressive (and amusing) witnessing some of the very technical poses they are able to get themselves in to. Yoga is a great way to relax, de-stress and improve your strength and posture. It combines stretching, breathing, weight bearing exercises and meditation techniques to provide a well-rounded mind and body workout. Try this video to follow a 15-minute beginner yoga routine.

Dr Lynsey Baird, Primary Care Doctor at Bupa does Bikram yoga and says: “As well as improving physical strength, posture, balance and flexibility, I find Bikram yoga also develops mental strength. I find myself more focused yet relaxed, I sleep better and I can cope better with everyday stresses.”

Cat asleep upside down


Lesson 6: Look after yourself

Cats are masters of self care. They even purr as a way to self soothe themselves, not to mention taking time out to preen themselves and file their nails on the nearest expensive home furnishing.

Self care is extremely important for our mental wellbeing. The things you do to care for yourself will be individual to you. An evening run might be just the ticket for one person, while reading a book in a cosy armchair hits the spot for someone else.

One of the simplest and quickest ways to give yourself a self care boost is to involve your senses. So, for example, you could: listen to music that makes you feel good, light a scented candle, cook a nutritious meal, wear something comforting like a soft jumper and slippers. Little things done on a regular basis can make a big difference.

Fatmata Kamara, Specialist Nurse Adviser, explains why it’s so important to be good to yourself: “With all the pressure that comes with modern life – from work, peers and social media – you need to be your own cheerleader. People who are kind to themselves are more likely to bounce back after a setback. This is essential for building up your resilience.”

Cat preening itself


Lesson 7: Stay focused on your goal

When I accidentally rattle a food packet, the cats come running. Even when it’s a bag of salad and not the bag of Dreamies® they think it is. Nevertheless, they are unwavering in their focus, persistence and determination to get what they want (or think they want). We can learn a lot from their focus and drive. Most of us have goals we’re striving for but really struggle when it comes to willpower, determination and motivation.

Whilst it’s important to be motivated by the goal itself, staying focused on it over time can require a different type of motivation. Fiona Tuttlebee, Behaviour Change Adviser, has some great tips and tricks. She says: “Being motivated by the end goal or external rewards is important, but you are more likely to be successful if you are intrinsically motivated. If working towards the goal is enjoyable, satisfying and is important to you this can form a powerful intrinsic motivation for you and you will be more likely to achieve your goal.”

Even a small but significant change can set you on the right track to achieving your goal. Fiona adds: “Think about the small steps that you are taking towards yours goal. Whenever we complete a task we’ve set for ourselves, our brain releases a little dopamine – one of our primary feel-good hormones. So it’s really important that you recognise and take pride in completing your mini-goals as it’s a great intrinsic motivator to keep going.”

Two cats

Joshua and Junior

So there you have it. Cats have got life figured out and can teach us a thing or two about looking after our health and wellbeing.

Do you know how healthy you truly are? Bupa health assessments give you a clear overview of your health. You’ll receive a personalised lifestyle action plan with health goals to reach for a healthier, happier you.

Natalie Heaton
Health and Lifestyle Editor at Bupa UK

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