Since she was a child, Gwen Weiss-Numeroff has had an interest in nutrition but also wondered if she would be doomed by genetics.
When she was eight years old, her nine-year-old brother died from leukemia, which first sparked her interest in genetics. That strengthened as she went along in life and saw many others close to her die. Weiss-Numeroff had a first cousin die at 28 and her mother died three years ago at age 70 from ovarian cancer. Her best friend and maid of honor at her wedding died at age 33 from breast cancer.
“When my brother died I really started thinking about it,” she said. “Since I was a kid I always wondered the connection between nutrition and disease. Not really anyone in my family had good longevity, and so I also wondered if I would just be doomed by genetics no matter what.”
After graduating college, Weiss-Numeroff became an advertising executive, working for a few different health and lifestyle magazines. Her interest in nutrition and living a long life led to her quit that industry in 2001 and become a nutritionist, lifestyle coach and motivational speaker. She formed Corporate Wellness of Hudson & Bergen to work with companies in an effort to help employees healthy.
“I saw how it was when I was in advertising, and it took a toll on my health,” she said. “You’re not only working long hours, but you either give yourself a little time to eat during the day, or you’re eating out in restaurants with clients all the time. You don’t really exercise, you don’t watch what you eat. You’re not thinking about health at all.”
Three years ago, Weiss-Numeroff’s mother died, which stirred up something else in her.
“I felt like I had to go on this personal journey,” she said. “I sought out centenarians. I wanted to talk to them about how they lived to be at least 100 and see what they were doing. I met a lot of people who at 100, 102 and even older that are still working, still volunteering.”
This led Weiss-Numeroff, who now lives in New City, to write her first book, “Extraordinary Centenarians in America: Their Secrets to Living a Long Vibrant Life,” which was recently released by Agio Publishing House. It can be purchased on her site or on Amazon as both a physical book and an e-book.
“They absolutely changed my life and my outlook on my future,” she said. “I’ve always wondered what happens when you grow old and had no idea what I would do, or what I could do.”
Weiss-Numeroff said some still work or volunteer, and some live on their own. One man who had never married met a woman at the nursing home he was living in and married her. He was 99 and she was 86.
“All of them were warm, gracious and lovely people,” Weiss-Numeroff said. “They were funny and witty. Not one of them was not accessible. They were really humble, too, and many even asked what was so special about them. Some even introduced me to other centenarians they knew.”
Weiss-Numeroff interviewed a wide range of 30 centenarians for the book about their lives, from former professional athletes to business people to Ruth Gruber, the journalist who was also a special assistant to Interior Secretary Harold Ickes during World War II. She also interviewed Besse Cooper, who at 116 is the world's oldest person, through her son Sidney as her memory loss was too great and she was bedridden at the time.
“They’re 30 of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever met,” she said. “They’re all different, but they’ve all faced great challenges in their lives. I consider all of them part of my family now.”
Weiss-Numeroff said a few centenarians live in Rockland, including one person in New City, one in Pearl River, one in Nanuet and a couple in Monsey. Some of the people she interviewed during the two years she worked on the book have died.
Weiss-Numeroff will be in Bardonia for a book signing at The Food Evolution on Route 304 on Thursday, Dec. 13 from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
In her research, Weiss-Numeroff said the centenarians had different ideas for why they lived into triple digits, but there were some similarities. She said none of the centenarians are obese, they don’t worry about the small stuff and they all keep busy through volunteer or participating in things like book clubs.
Of course, Weiss-Numeroff also made sure to talk to her interview subjects about genetics.
“Eighty percent of the centenarians had siblings who died in their 60s or younger. Although genetics does play a role in longevity, this indicates that they don't necessarily save us nor are we doomed by them," Weiss-Numeroff said.
Editor's Note: 116-year-old Besse Cooper who was interviewed for this book, passed away on Tuesday, Dec. 4.