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The bad news: your risk of developing heart disease increases as you age. The good news: While there’s not much you can do about your age, you can impact several of the risk factors for cardiovascular issues. Living in a Holiday Retirement community can play a big role in that.


The American College of Sports Medicine identifies the following risk factors for cardiovascular disease: 


  • Age

  • Gender (being male)

  • Family medical history

  • Smoking

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • High body mass index (BMI)

  • Hypertension/ high blood pressure

  • High cholesterol


Five of the risk factors for heart disease are reversible and can be altered by your actions and your environment. Living in a Holiday community can help you focus on the controllable factors that influence cardiovascular health. Our communities lend themselves to a healthy lifestyle. You’re set up for positive reinforcement, healthy food choices, and many opportunities for movement.


Types of Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease may refer to a number of conditions of the cardiovascular system. These can include:


Abnormal heart rhythm is known as an arrhythmia. Whether your heart is beating too slow or too fast, it can affect the way your heart is working to meet your body’s needs for blood and oxygen.

Heart Valve Issues

Your heart valves help with healthy blood circulation. Heart valve problems occur when blood leaks through the valves of the heart because the valves aren’t shutting properly.

Heart Attack

When a blood clot blocks the flow of oxygen and blood to the heart from an artery, a heart attack occurs. A clot can form when a fatty deposit on the arteries, also known as plaque, ruptures, and blocks a heart artery.


There are two types of strokes: An ischemic stroke and a hemorrhagic stroke. When one of the brain’s blood vessels gets blocked, cutting off blood supply to part of the brain, an ischemic stroke can occur. A hemorrhagic stroke is often tied to high blood pressure and happens when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

Heart Failure

Heart failure is a chronic, progressive condition. Heart failure occurs when the body isn’t getting as much oxygen and blood as it needs. This is likely due to conditions such as high blood pressure or coronary artery disease, which can narrow the heart’s arteries, hindering its ability to fill and pump efficiently.

Why Do Heart Conditions Develop?

The heart is essentially the engine room of our bodies, transporting nutrients, hormones, and oxygen to the cells as well as waste to the lungs and kidneys for excretion. The heart pumps the literal “life blood” throughout a complex network of vessels.

Unfortunately, the circulatory system is susceptible to many types of complications of the heart and vessels. Culinary Director, Sean Danahy, RD, LDN explains that common heart conditions such as hypertension and coronary artery disease (CAD) are often the byproduct of prolonged environmental stressors such as diet. This can exacerbate existing genetic predispositions to cardiovascular conditions. The continuous transport of nutrients and waste can cause build up of arterial plaque, which inhibits proper blood flow and causes the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout the body.

Hypertension is most often associated with sodium intake, while coronary artery disease is a condition of excessive plaque buildup. CAD is typically related to dietary cholesterol and fat intake. “These two diseases tend to be the most commonly known conditions representing heart disease,” said Danahy, “So when people talk about eating for your heart, it’s most often related to preventing or reducing the impact of this through a balanced diet.”


How Holiday Retirement Supports Heart Health

The health and happiness of our residents is top priority at Holiday. We work hard to make sure we offer all the opportunities you need to make choices that support your well-being. Some of the ways we do this include:


Fun Fitness Opportunities

Living at home may cause you to get in a rut with physical activity. Doing the same type of exercise can get boring after a while, even tempting you to start skipping your routine. A benefit of living in a senior living community is having an activity calendar with diverse options that are all planned out for you. When we put together our activity calendars, we aim to make many of the activities body-based, so you’re frequently moving and doing. 

Holiday communities offer opportunities to help you stay fit at different levels of difficulty. For example, resident-led exercise classes and fitness equipment, like recumbent bicycles, are available. We have free exercise classes in many communities, outside walking capabilities, and activities that support body-based movement. There are fitness opportunities for those who’ve been exercising awhile as well as people who are just starting to get active or have physical conditions that challenge their fitness capabilities. 



Physical activity is good, but doing it among friends is better. Research is starting to show that getting to that second layer of movement and exercise includes a social setting that supports preservation. The mind is engaged in a social setting like a retirement community because it’s a dynamic environment. Aging at home doesn’t provide the same type of physical and mental stimulation that life in a senior living community can offer. Maybe you exercise every day at home, but it’s not as effective as if you coupled that with a social setting where your mind is having to maneuver non-habitual environments.

The link between socialization and heart health is the subject of several recent studies:

  • A 2017 analysis of 22 cross-sectional studies found older adults with more social support are more likely to engage in physically active leisure time.

  • A 2015 study published in the Journal of Aging and Health showed that poor social support and integration later in life can lead to an increase in systolic blood pressure and a higher risk of hypertension.

  • A 10-year review of social relationships and hypertension late in life found poor social support can significantly increase the risk of negative outcomes in cardiac patients.

  • A survey of 3,910 seniors found that those who lived in retirement communities were two to five times more likely than non-residents to participate in heart-healthy activities such as exercise, social events, and regular movement. Ten percent of residents felt their health had improved since moving into a senior living community and 61% felt they’d maintained their health since the transition. 

Think about it like this: We tend to mimic the environment we’re in. When your environment is thriving and moving, it makes it easier to start that type of daily interaction, more so than at home, which doesn’t have that positive peer pressure. In other words, if your senior living community friends are all doing Zumba or getting up for the walking club every morning, you’re more likely to follow suit. 


Keeps Stress in Check

Stress doesn’t do your heart any favors. Research heavily links stress with cardiovascular disease, regardless of genetics and comorbid conditions. There are multiple ways a Holiday senior living community can help you manage stress. For instance, many offer yoga and Tai Chi, which can help ease anxiety and stress. Sometimes referred to as “meditation in motion,” these practices can help you “land” in your body through stretching, balancing, relaxing, and breathing techniques. Over time, these efforts can pause or slow down the hamster wheel of thoughts that can fuel stress. 

Being among friends can also lower stress, and at Holiday, you’re sure to have many of them. Some studies have found that feeling lonely and isolated can increase stress. It can also decrease quality of life and impact the immune system.

Leaving behind your daily to-do list is bound to decrease stress as well. With Holiday staff taking care of your meals, housekeeping, maintenance, and transportation, you can focus on hobbies, healthy habits, fun activities, and relaxing.


Promotes Self-Care

Self-care like eating well, sleeping enough, exercising, and taking time for yourself is easy at a Holiday senior living community. For instance, getting the right amount and quality of sleep has been found to be critical to heart health. “There’s a misconception that as we age, we need less sleep.It ’s exactly the opposite. We need seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night.

Our independent living communities and assisted living communities can support good sleep and hygiene through the physical and mental stimulation they provide. There’s a link between movement, mental stimulation, and getting a good night’s rest. If you’re engaged throughout the day, then the mind is tired at night and goes to bed.

It’s easy for sleep patterns to get out of whack when you live alone at home. You may stay up late, nap a lot, and have varying sleep\wake cycles. If you take advantage of the mental stimulation and exercise at our senior living communities, it can be very conducive to good sleep hygiene.


Nutritious Meals

Healthy habits such as physical activity are an essential component to wellness that’s proven to complement dietary changes. One of the benefits of living in an independent living community like Holiday Retirement is that following a heart-healthy diet and movement plan is easy because these opportunities are intentionally incorporated into the community. “Our Healthy Holiday Meal is a menu option that we have provided for the purpose of helping our residents manage their diet and nutritional goals,” said Danahy. “It conforms to the USDA’s dietary guidelines for healthy Americans, and features the kcals, sodium, carbohydrates, and saturated fat content for each meal.” 


Why Heart-Healthy Food Is Important

As we age, our bodies begin to need more of certain types of nutrients and vitamins in order to function well and help prevent conditions that become more common in older age, like heart disease. Estimates show around 16% of adults aged 65 or older eat fewer than 1,000 calories per day (putting them at risk for malnutrition), and up to half of hospitalized seniors are malnourished. 

The primary factors that cause nutrition issues in seniors:

  • We become less active in older age, which slows the metabolism and means fewer calories are needed. As older adults, we may begin to eat less, but may not receive adequate nutrients.

  • The body’s ability to absorb and utilize nutrients decreases as we age.

  • Health conditions and medications often affect nutrient requirements.

  • Changes in taste, smell, and appetite as we grow older may cause us to limit our food intake and eat healthy foods less often.

“For these reasons, it’s especially important for seniors to eat plenty of nutrient-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and fish,” said Holiday’s Culinary Director, Sean Danahy, RD, LDN. “These foods contain high amounts of protein, vitamin D, calcium, and B12 vitamins, which are among the most important nutrients that aging adults need but often lack in their diets.” Calcium promotes bone health, and vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium better. Vitamin B12 promotes healthy brain function and creates red blood cells, and protein helps prevent the loss of strength and muscle mass. Other important nutrients include potassium, magnesium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids


How to Eat for Heart Health

It’s easier than you may think to eat for heart health. It’s just keeping some basic guidelines in mind and making choices that support them. “Deep down I believe that we all innately know what foods are healthy,” said Danahy. Though we may not recall all the science, and we may not always make the most health conscious choices, we always have the option to make more mindful ones tomorrow.” Here are some tips for heart-healthy eating:


Eat Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

Eat fresh, whole foods like leafy greens and fruits. These are healthy alternatives to processed foods, which contain high levels of sodium. Another benefit of eating fruit and vegetables is the fiber that they provide. “Fiber not only helps you have regular bowel movements and promotes gut health, it also binds fats and cholesterols that we consume in foods and helps prevent absorption to some extent,” said Holiday’s Culinary Director, Sean Danahy, RD, LDN. “I sometimes compare it to the way fibrous things like paper towels and sponges are used to bind and clean up spills in the kitchen.”


Eat Healthy Fats

Incorporate foods into your diet that contain “healthy” fats such as salmon, which is a fatty fish. Healthy fats provide omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D. “They’re a heart-healthy food that most Americans do not consume enough of,” says Danahy. “You can also get healthy fat from foods such as salt-free nuts like walnuts. Nuts provide a litany of micronutrients like magnesium, copper, and manganese.”


Reduce Sodium Intake

Controlling and reducing sodium intake is a widely known approach to treating hypertension, also known as high blood pressure (HBP). The more salt we eat, the more fluid we retain, and the more pressure is exerted on the walls of our circulatory system. “Reduce sodium consumption by being more aware of the foods you eat, and identifying positive changes as well as problematic food and habits that lead to increased sodium intake,” says Danahy.

Convenience foods and processed foods tend to have the highest amount of salt. The reason for this is that salt is both a preserver of foods as well as a seasoning that’s pleasurable. “Many large food manufacturing companies invest heavily in research to market test food products and develop flavor combinations to increase the addictive nature of foods,” says Danahy. “This is one of the most challenging aspects of controlling our consumption of them.”


Read Nutrition Labels

Making a point to read nutrition labels is one way to increase your awareness of salt content within foods. Cooking fresh foods is another means to control how much salt you take in. “We can still enjoy delicious foods by seasoning them with fresh herbs and spices instead of excessive salt use,” said Danahy.

Similar to sodium content in foods, many processed foods contribute to our excessive and unintentional intake of fats and cholesterol. “Reading nutrition labels will increase your awareness of serving size and fat/cholesterol content,” said Danahy. “Increasing your home cooking and consumption of vegetables and fruits serves to improve cholesterol levels over time without contributing to cholesterol themselves.”


Add Probiotics to Your Diet

Some research has linked probiotics to better heart health because they work on the gut and circulatory system in a way that can lower blood pressure, reduce inflammation, and decrease cholesterol. Probiotics are powerful little microorganisms that are also shown to boost the immune system, and could possibly reduce COVID-19 symptoms.  “Naturally, fermented live culture foods are a great addition to any diet, and provide both prebiotics and probiotics that add to the gut microbiome and contribute significantly to health --  providing 60% of the immune response,” said Danahy. You can find probiotics in foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso and kimchi. You may also consider asking your physician about taking a probiotic supplement.


Do a Salt Detox

We can all stand to detox from excessive salt intake. Some health experts propose that you can reset your taste buds in just three weeks. The American Heart Association promotes a 21-day challenge that educates people on common sodium sources. On average, American adults consume more than 3400 mg of sodium, which is more than double the AHA recommended limit and 1300 mg more than the USDA’s recommended daily intake.

Of course, fast food and snacks contribute to our excessive salt intake, but condiments such as salad dressing are easy to overlook. “Eating a salad can contribute significantly to salt intake just by the type and amount of salad dressing that you use,” said Danahy. “Choosing low sodium alternatives is always a good step to mitigating the amount of salt we consume.” Reducing processed foods will help reduce hidden sources of sodium.


Healthy Options at Holiday

Holiday provides delicious meals that are also nutritious. Taste is never sacrificed because menus are planned by Danahy, who is uniquely trained as both a chef and dietician, often known as a culinary nutrition specialist. Some senior living communities have two people fill these roles, which can create a push and pull between taste and meeting nutrition requirements. 

Danahy considers all the factors in our residents’ diets and behaviors when writing recipes. For example, typically, older age brings with it smaller appetites because we don’t require as many calories. However, we still need the same amount of nutrients found in larger servings, if not more. This creates a puzzle — how do seniors get the nutrients they need without feeling completely overstuffed? Danahy solves this puzzle every day by offering seniors three meals — each with multiple entree options — and meeting the dietary requirements for healthy adults. Meals are created to be delicious, but also healthy and full of the nutrients needed for mental and physical wellbeing in seniors. At our senior living communities, you’ll find the perfect blend of comfort foods, regional favorites, and healthy choices.


Stay Healthy and Happy at Holiday

Live in an environment where making healthy choices is effortless, because they’re always available. Let someone else do the grocery shopping, cooking, and provide the healthy options. Surround yourself with friends who lift your mood and make it more fun to exercise because you’re doing it together. Choose from fun activities designed to keep your body moving, mind sharp, and spirits up. It’s all waiting for you at our senior living communities. Schedule a tour today to see how life can be better here.

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