97 Year Old Roanoker Is Role Model For Keeping Fit

Arthur Schenkein

by Deb Chappell

I recently had the pleasure to interview, Arthur Schenkein, a Roanoke City resident who turned 97 years old on Valentine’s Day.  What makes him unique, besides the fact that he is 97 years old, is that he swims most days of the week.  That’s more than most of us, no matter what age, can say.  More and more studies are confirming that consistent physical and mental exercise is the key to aging well, so all of us need to sit up and take notice and stop making excuses.  I want to share his story that will hopefully inspire you to stay or get active – it’s never too late, but get a doctor’s OK before starting on a rigorous workout.  Oh yea, did I mention that he didn’t start exercising until after he retired at age 65 and that he is now legally blind?

Q  Swimming daily at age 97!  How did you start?

A  I retired from ophthalmology in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1979.  I needed to find things to do to occupy my days and my mind. I didn’t exercise until I retired – was just a “somewhat” golfer.  I got a pacemaker in 1983 and knew that I needed to exercise regularly so I joined the YMCA – it didn’t matter if the weather was bad.  I started swimming daily for one hour, building up to about 27 laps a day.

Q  How much are you swimming and what other types of exercise are you getting now?

A  RADAR takes me to the Salem YMCA three days a week and the Park-Oak Grove Retirement Community van takes me there 2 days a week at 8:30am.  I swim 10 laps in 30 minutes. On the weekend, I walk around the building or in the halls 1-2 miles.  I do it not so much that I enjoy it but mainly because I know that it’s good for me. [Note – he doesn’t use a cane or a walker.]

Q – Do you feel that it has helped your health?

A – No question it’s made a difference in my aging.  I used to be overweight – I now weigh less than I have since I was a kid.  I’m also being more selective with the foods that I eat.

Q – It’s ironic that you worked in eye care and now you have macular degeneration.  How have you coped with your vision loss?

A – I’m unable to read anymore without any assistance.  I get “Talking Books” and a device to play them from the Library of Congress program.  I also have a “Magni-sight” reader provided by the Veterans Administration to read correspondences and business affairs.  It’s hard to get enough mental stimulation – I can’t enjoy TV [he also uses a special hearing aid], but I listen to news and information on NPR, I enjoy mystery books on tape and “Brain Teaser” games which they offer here twice a week. [Note – good use of available resources – it doesn’t hurt that his daughter is a social worker!]

Q – What’s the hardest thing for you as a 97 year-old?

A – I am lucky that my daughter and son-in-law, Judi and Paul Finney, keep a good eye on me here, help me with shopping and permit me to have as much independence as I can.  I don’t have many close friends and not enough mental stimulation.  I’m looking for someone to relate to on a mental level.

For more information see the Virginia Cooperative Extension publications on  “Older Adults” at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/category/older-adults.html


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