Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks travelling in the African wilderness, far from civilisation and surrounded by nature in its rawest form. From the termites who build mountains to the elephants who tear down trees all the animals left an indelible mark in my mind but none more so than the big cats.
Fearsome predators, awesome athletes, protective parents the big cats are fascinating and intimidating to behold. Beyond the sheer spectacle they also reminded me of simple lifestyle lessons we can all benefit from as we strive to look, feel and perform better in our own lives.
Lesson 1 - It Helps To Be Strong
When you are vying to be king of the jungle it helps to be strong. Strength wins territory, strength wins food, strength wins mates, strength wins a bloodline. Strength for a big cat is everything.
As humans we have successfully used brains to triumph over brawn but this does not make strength a redundant quality in our own ecosystem. Maintaining decent strength and muscle mass through regular resistance exercise is a worthy pursuit which helps us fend off body fat and improves our physical capabilities.
Lesson 2 - Don't Go Thirsty
Water dictates the lives of big cats with most days built around trips to watering holes and rivers. When the water goes, the big cats vanish shortly after.
The challenge of acquiring good drinking water is far less of an ordeal for most of us. However our biological need for this particular blend of hydrogen and oxygen is no less important. From the micro to the macro everything simply works better when we stay hydrated.
Lesson 3 - It’s Good To Move
When food is scarce big cats spend large chunks of their day roaming their territory looking for dinner. On the flip side, when food is abundant, like in the aftermath of a kill, this calorie wasting exercise is eschewed in favor of rest and relaxation. Energy is a valuable commodity when you have to fight for every meal.
Many years ago our own cycle of movement and rest would have looked very similar. The problem now is our food takes no energy to acquire and comes in almost limitless supply. As a consequence movement is not forced upon us like it once was but this does not make it any less valuable. Our body is hard-wired to expect movement and gets heavier, stagnant and sluggish when it is in short supply.
Lesson 4 - Eat Food You Were Designed To Eat
Big cats are carnivores who eat a diet appropriate for this genetic makeup. If a cheetah were to decide it was more convenient to simply spend all day chewing on grass it wouldn’t be long until things started to unfold and its health took a rapid turn for the worse. It’s not designed to thrive on this food.
As omnivores we are in the fortunate position of being able to thrive on a whole spectrum of plant and animal foods. Yet many of us opt to be like the cheetah chewing on grass by eating a convenience diet built around processed food. Unsurprisingly, we struggle to thrive on this alien diet.
Lesson 5 - Develop Your Movement Skills
This beautiful leopard made the mistake of messing with a baby warthog whilst mummy was still in the neighbourhood. In a flash the hunter turned into the hunted and without her diverse array of movement skills (sprinting, dodging and climbing) she would have been turned into pulverised warthog fodder. Here she is 10 foot up a tree with her pursuer, out of shot, prowling around at ground level.
The human body is also capable of a fantastic array of movement skills but it is a use it or lose it deal. Spend too much time in one position and your ability to move effectively will slowly erode away. Good luck escaping the angry warthogs in your life when this happens.
Like our leopard friend in the previous picture this cheetah clearly values its flexibility and suppleness as it practices some yoga prior to the evening hunt.
Lesson 6 - Devotion To Sleep
Like any household cat, the big relatives in Africa know how to rest and relax. When the hunting is done, when rival clans have been seen off and when thirst levels have been quenched these guys hit the off switch and let their bodies heal from the previous hours exertion.
In our fast-paced, stressed-out, always-on society we could really benefit from some lion-esque devotion to sleep. Like optimal hydration it simply makes everything better.
Lesson 7 - Sometimes Its Fun To Play
Make no mistake, life is very tough in the wild so it was good to see these youngsters still found some time to play...
… and so should we!
Special thanks to all our feline models for not eating the photographer during the creation of this article and for offering up these valuable lifestyle lessons which to a greater and lesser degree we can all benefit from.