Sometimes the simplest lessons on how to live a healthy life come from the nature around us. Take my maine coon cat for example. Maineflame Atarangi, commonly known as Rangi.

When you look at how he spends much of his life, keeping good health becomes easier. Here are eight simple rules:

1. Eat real (unprocessed) food; not too much and “nose to tail”

Rangi eats mostly rabbit, hare, wallaby, goat and venison.   Some as mince and some as chunks of meat.    The rabbit and hare minces includes the whole animal, heart, organs, bone and especially blood.   Eating the whole animal ensures that he gets vitamins, minerals, and nutrient dense foods.  Having large chunks of meat to chew on also helps to keep his teeth clean.

2. Get some exercise  

Play, run around, chase birds, (butterflies, flies, leaves…). Rangi is an avid hunter, but fortunately he is also a bad ‘catcher’. Getting the heart rate up, and working the muscles improves overall metabolic health. Plus, playing – however you choose to play – improves mood and mental health, while outdoors play gives you the benefits of sunlight.

3. Get enough sunlight (but don’t get sunburnt)

Technically Rangi is a dark silver tabby.  However, when he spends time in the sun he “tarnishes” and develops a brown colour.   He spends quite a bit of time lying in the sun, but when the day is hot, he is more likely to be in the shade.

We know sunlight is good for us as it helps to make, or inhibit the manufacture of, a number of different vitamins and other necessary neurochemicals within the body.  For example, exposure to UV light means that vitamin D will be made in the skin, which has a number of health benefits including helping to prevent osteoporosis and insulin resistance. However, we don’t necessarily get the same benefits when we take vitamin D supplements.  What is important is that we get enough sunlight – especially early in the morning and the middle of the day – without sunscreen as this allows the UV light to reach the skin, but also without getting sunburnt. Sunburn increases the risk of developing skin cancers, especially the potentially lethal version – melanoma.  For many years we have been told to stay out of the sun, but now we have a generation of people, especially young women, with poor bone health. Interestingly, there is some evidence coming through that suggests the risk of sunburn can be reduced in people who avoid seed oils and refined carbohydrates and sugars.

4. Get enough quality sleep

Like all cats, Rangi is a champion sleeper, but the quality of our sleep is more important than the quantity.   When we sleep we go through four different stages of non-REM sleep, each stage getting deeper, then we have a stage of REM sleep, where sleep can be quite shallow.  During each of the sleep stages, especially the deep stages of non-REM sleep, our body’s hormones can rest and reset.  If our sleep is interrupted, when we get back to sleep, we usually don’t return to the sleep stage that we were woken from; instead we start from the beginning again.  This means that we may not spend much time in deep-sleep and get all the hormonal benefits.  If you are not waking refreshed from sleep, then you made need to do some investigations to work out how to improve matters.

5. Reduce stress and some time each day for relaxation

Everyone needs a hobby, or some other means of relaxing after a hard day’s work. Some people take up activities such as yoga, but other active forms of relaxation, such as playing golf, walking (especially in green spaces), or different forms of handcraft are just as beneficial. Rangi loves playing with any piece of material I put on the floor and sometimes “helps” me work out what order they should be in (also known as hindering). This allows the brain to unwind, and lowers cortisol levels. This in turn helps to boost the immune system and decreases insulin resistance.

6. Avoid/limit pollutants

Being exposed to high amount of pollutants is damaging to health. While we generally think of different air pollutants aggravating respiratory diseases like asthma, these pollutants can also aggravate cardiovascular disease and place a high amount of stress on the body. This in turn may cause other health problems including impairing the immune system, increased fatigue and shortening the lifespan.

7. Make new friends

Rangi loves making friends including the children walking to or from school and many of our neighbours (and their cats, such as “Dora”). Friendships are known to enhance health. They may boost self-confidence or happiness levels and reduce stress. Friends can also help with many of the trials and tribulations of life, including coping with grief. Friends can also help make (and sometimes break) healthy lifestyle behaviours.

8. Learn new skills

Rangi was so proud of himself as a kitten when he finally made it to the top of his 2m high cat tower. We hadn’t finished making it, so the top lounging platform wasn’t installed. Now he leaps and bounds up the trees outside, so this was an important skill for him to learn. But we should all keep learning new skills – even as we age. Keeping the brain active means that we can keep our brain chemistry working well, we prevent boredom and keep making new brain connections. This is all believed to help prevent cognitive disorders, such as dementia, as we get older.

It is not easy to keep our lives simple. But sometimes just slowing down and allowing ourselves to eat real food, get quality sleep, and spend some time each day in sunlight, “play” and hobbies, with new friends can all benefit our health.