Author explores the secret to long lives well lived
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Author explores the secret to long lives well lived

Gwen Weiss Numeroff was on a mission. She wanted to explore the secrets of longevity, traveling far and wide to connect with extraordinary people.

But little did she realize the impact this would have on her own life; providing her with inspiration, hope, and spiritual renewal.

In her recently published book, “Extraordinary Centenarians in America: Their Secrets to Living a Long, Vibrant Life,” Numeroff depicts the dynamic lives of 30 remarkable people, most of whom are 100 years of age and beyond.

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Author Gwen Weiss Numeroff

The book is a celebration their lives, and Numeroff presents them as inspirational role models. However, the book is not just about longevity alone. It also pays tribute to the quality of life enjoyed by older Americans, redefining aging in a new way.

Numeroff, a practicing nutritionist and life coach in New City, was motivated to connect with older individuals following the losses of family members who either died young or from disease. Finally, after losing her mother to ovarian cancer, she needed some answers.

“I needed to meet older vibrant people who were still active, volunteering and productive,” said Numeroff in a recent interview.

Fearing that her life was doomed by her own genetics, Numeroff changed professions from the stressful world of advertising to her present career in nutrition, health and wellness. “I needed to change, not just for myself, but also to help others,” said Numeroff.

Shortly thereafter she began her search that led to her writing her book. Originally, Numeroff was looking for people who were approximately 100 years old and had the mental capacity to sustain an interview. The process began with a search of the Internet and social networking.

Her first subject, Gardner Watts of Suffern, at age 96, remarkably climbed the Statue of Liberty stairs from the base to the crown. Still keeping active and socially connected today, he and his wife oversee the Suffern Village Museum, which they founded some 30 years ago with other Suffern residents.

After meeting Watts, Numeroff began seeking those who were inspiring, extraordinary and active in their “platinum years.” This led her to 114 year old Dr. Leila Denmark in Georgia. Before she retired at age 103, Denmark was the oldest practicing pediatrician in the world. As a developer of the whooping cough vaccine, she saved countless lives.

As time went on, Numeroff met many different centenarians from all different walks of life. But the one with whome she connected most was Bel Kaufman, 101, teacher and renowned author of “Up the Down Staircase.” It was Kaufman’s grandfather, Sholem Aleichem, who inspired her creativity and her sense of humor.

“She welcomed me into her home and we laughed together in an atmosphere of mutual respect,” said Numeroff. Laughter is Kaufman’s motivation for living a positive lifestyle. In her own words of wisdom contained in a delightful chapter of the book, Kaufman says, “You can’t laugh and be angry, you can’t laugh and feel sad, you can’t laugh and feel envious.”

According to Numeroff, there are currently about 62,000 people in the United States who have reached the age of 100; 80 percent are women. And interestingly enough, many are also Jewish.

Meeting Irving Kahn, a 106-year-old investment professional, was an eye-opening experience for Numeroff. She found Kahn from an article in New York Magazine about a longevity study. Kahn and his siblings were participants in genetic studies of Ashkenazi Jews at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Institute for Aging Research. Scientists there have discovered that there may actually be a gene that enables longevity and protection from life-threatening illnesses. Research indicates that clues have been found in the bio-chemical makeup of members of this particular ethnic group.

Finding Ruth Gruber, a famous photojournalist and humanitarian, was another incredible experience for Numeroff. During World War II, Gruber was given a covert assignment by the Secretary of the Interior to escort thousands of Jews from Italy to the U.S. in order to grant them refuge from the Nazis. More recently, Gruber has helped Ethiopian Jews relocate to Israel in order to escape poverty and persecution. At 101, she continues to write and lecture in hopes of inspiring others to be charitable.

Another memorable and ongoing relationship for Numeroff was her connection to Irving Ladimer, an activist for human rights, professor and a leader in the Jewish community of Riverdale. Also an author, he was a more than a little awe-inspiring for Numeroff.

“Initially, I felt a little intimidated to meet this most brilliant man, but now he is my friend and we speak often, “said Numeroff.

Currently, Ladimer lectures to groups in synagogues, community centers and schools for the purpose of encouraging volunteerism. He is also an avid writer. Recently, Numeroff was invited to attend a production of Ladimer’s latest drama. “I can’t wait to see what he’s up to next,” she said.

Numeroff realized that all of the subjects she had interviewed had reached their advanced ages because of certain common threads. Keeping busy and active, having purpose and joy, staying socially connected, overcoming life’s obstacles in stride, and leading a healthy lifestyle were all contributing factors to their vitality and longevity. Many were cognizant of what they ate and none were obese. Most did not smoke and if they did, they quit in their earlier years. Alcohol was generally consumed in moderation.

Incorporating their wisdom and habits into her own lifestyle and the lives of her clients has given Numeroff a sense of purpose and has alleviated some of her fears of aging and genetics. She now has dreams of a long, healthy and vibrant life and hopes to inspire her readers as well.

“Extraordinary Centenarians in America” is available in both hard and soft covers and in e-book format on Amazon.com as well as in bookstores. A portion of the proceeds from the sales will be donated to ovarian cancer research. For more information, visit Numeroff’s website, www.livingvibrantlyto100.com. Books may also be ordered from this site at a discounted rate.

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