Opinion: Digging for Longevity

FIVEaa's David Penberthy shares what he, and his late Granny Pfitz, believes to be the secret of longevity.

WORDS: David Penberthy

One summer before my Grandma died at the grand old age of 93, she decided to go for a walk from her home in Morphettville to my parent’s old place in Mitchell Park. It was a 40 degree day and when Grandma finally got there after her 5km stroll my parents weren’t home. Rather than sitting around waiting for them she decided to make herself useful and went into the shed, got the mower and started mowing the yard. 

When Mum and Dad came home they found her lying exhausted on the front lawn. She had almost collapsed in the heat. Mum was deeply unimpressed and gave her a stern talking to about how a woman aged in her late 80s shouldn’t be pushing herself like that. Grandma was having none of it and said there was no way she was going to sit around like some little old lady doing nothing. Mum was half-laughing on the phone that night when she told me about Grandma’s antics, but declared solemnly that it was a miracle she didn’t kill herself. I said to Mum that if she had, finding Granny Pfitz lying dead next to a still-running lawnmower when it’s 100 degrees in the shade would be the ultimate Granny Pfitz way to exit this earth.

Being happy seems to be a good way to keep living

Being on the wrong side of 50, I have found myself being drawn of late to articles about exercise and diet. By “drawn to” I don’t mean “acting upon”. I read them, but I haven’t changed my ways to achieve greater longevity by eating kale or coconut oil or buying a pedometer to do the daily 10,000 steps. While I don’t eat between meals, and only eat occasional junk food, I still eat plenty of dodgy stuff that tastes great (like cheese and smallgoods and butter and the fat on steak and chops). I drink what the health wowsers regard as too much beer and wine. I have no intention of stopping any of these things because I find them entertaining. 

Being happy seems to be a good way to keep living. But more importantly, being active – finding something to exercise the mind and body – strikes me as the best way to ensure we don’t slide into obesity and inertia as the years roll by. Inspired by my green thumb grandmother, I’m hoping that frequent and vigorous gardening is going to keep me kicking towards the old age that she enjoyed. The older I get the more I get into it, and my wife often laughs that if we have a boozy night with mates on a Saturday, she knows she won’t see me indoors until 1pm the following day, as my modus operandi as a form of penance is to get up as early as I can in my mildly hungover state and garden until I can garden no more. I figure that frequent and varied movement and the sense of satisfaction gardening brings are a good combination for body and mind. I have never stepped foot in a gym or done Pilates. If someone told me to go and stand in the yard bending and stretching and squatting for five hours I’d tell them to get stuffed. When you’re gardening you’re doing all those things, except it doesn’t feel like you are doing them.

It isn’t the Pritikin diet or some workout schedule you would see in Men’s Health Magazine, but as far as I am concerned, the Granny Pfitz aggressive gardening program is as good a system as any to achieve longevity. Hopefully my kids find me lying on their lawn in 40 years time, still breathing, albeit with difficulty as my late, great grandma was that day.

David Penberthy and Will Goodings host breakfast on FIVEaa, weekdays 6am – 9am.

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