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Follow Your Heart to Wellness: 29 Days to a Healthier Heart

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The American Heart Association reports that a heart attack occurs every 40 seconds—while every three minutes, an American dies of stroke. High LDL cholesterol is a factor for both, but a 2023 survey found 70% of heart attack and stroke survivors weren’t aware they had high “bad” cholesterol. The good news? Stroke rates have declined among older Americans, and heart attack deaths have lowered since 2000. Education, regular check-ups and healthier habits work. Join The Healthy by Reader’s Digest and Taste of Home on a 29-day journey throughout February to build sustainable and surprisingly simple habits for your heart and learn how everyday choices can lead you to improved cholesterol and heart health.

Today's Challenge

best places to go on vacation for stress

February 29: Get away.

Time off isn’t a luxury—researchers found using your vacation time is a necessity for preventing premature death. Inspired to brainstorm your next vacation spot? Science suggests these eight destinations are paradise for lowering stress long-term.

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February 1: Take the pulse on your heart health. Kick off February by checking in on a few fundamental metrics: Try these easy ways from a cardiologist to track your heart health at home.

February 2: Set three goals. Your wellness journey might not look like anyone else’s. Do you need to improve your blood pressure? Find the right workout routine? Lower your salt intake to reach the World Health Organization’s recommended 2,000 milligrams per day (just under half a teaspoon)? To give your heart what it needs, it’s key to establish clear goals. Here’s how, from the experts at Reader’s Digest.

February 3: Eat like a heart doctor. A Mayo Clinic-trained cardiologist offers a glimpse inside her kitchen so you can add the foods cardiologists eat to your grocery list this week.

February 4: Try a low-salt recipe. We know: Managing your sodium intake can be a challenge. Today the test kitchen team at Taste of Home proves it’s possible for a dish to be low in sodium and delicious. Try apple maple pork chops, chicken with rosemary butter sauce, and scrumptious California salmon—just a few of the delicious low-sodium recipes to consider this week.

February 5: Set a bedtime. A 2023 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association spotlights an unseen threat to our hearts: The risks of inconsistent sleep patterns, which 30% of Americans say they face. Do your heart a favor, and normalize your sleep schedule.

February 6: Clock those steps. If you struggle to get 10,000 steps a day, don’t worry: Recent research suggests lowering your step count to this many miles daily yields measurable cardiovascular benefit. (If it’s frigid where you are, try the treadmill at home or take a few strolls when the ice melts to work up to healthy walks in spring!)

February 7: Try a Mediterranean-friendly recipe. The Mediterranean diet, long touted for its heart health benefits, emphasizes healthy fats and plenty of foods from the earth. We’re talking crisp fruits and veggies, yummy whole grains, and mouthwatering fish dishes. From the team at Taste of Home, try your hand at one of these delicious, heart-healthy recipes. 

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February 8: Calculate your fat-burning heart rate. In addition to your heart, today we’ll exercise your brain with some motivating math. The CDC recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week—but how do you know when your workout is officially “moderate-intensity”? Turns out, there’s a simple formula you can use.

February 9: Celebrate responsibly. If you’re passing through happy hour tonight or toasting over a cozy dinner with friends, be sure to avoid the worst alcohol for your heart and sip smart.

February 10: Fire up the slow cooker. The slow cooker screams “Comfort food!”—but nothing feels better than taking care of your health. The crew at Taste of Home suggests you can fill your belly with something warm and satisfying while still being easy on your heart. Try one of these heart-healthy slow cooker dinners. (Italian pot roast? Now that’s amore.)

February 11: Give someone a hug. A caring embrace doesn’t just feel good; it is good. Science has shown that hugging can be a major stress reliever with impressive effects on your heart and so much more. Open your arms to someone you love, for your heart’s sake.

February 12: Try 60 seconds of cyclic breathing. As we continue to focus on calming stress and improving your mental health, recent research suggests a technique that’s even more effective than meditation: Try cyclic breathing in the morning, or when you need to reset from a stressful moment. When you feel how this works, you may find yourself incorporating it into your life for good.

February 13: Give a dog a handshake. Well, okay, not literally—although experts say that’s a great way to communicate with your furry friend. Giving any animal in your life a little love can help reduce your stress and improve your wellness, but research shows spending time with a pup in particular can have major benefits for your heart.

February 14: Spread some love! No matter what your relationship status is, healthy bonds are crucial for your health and can be key in your long-term wellness. Show the people in your life a little love by sharing a heartfelt sentiment this Valentine’s Day, courtesy of Reader’s Digest.

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February 15: Try a heart-healthy move. Most any physical activity can be good for your heart, but cardiologists say these are the best exercises for people of any fitness level or ability.

February 16: Make time for your morning meal. In recent years, public health scientists analyzed 15 years’ worth of nutrition research to find that skipping breakfast was associated with an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, with higher blood pressure and cholesterol identified as possible reasons. Get bright ideas for breakfast from Taste of Home’s cholesterol-friendly recipes, developed by a nutritionist.

February 17: Laughter is good for the heart—literally! A dose of humor eases tension and invites you to take a breath. In fact, science has shown that laughing can boost circulation and oxygenate your blood, reduce blood pressure and regulate heart rate. Test out any of the 101 Short Jokes Anyone Can Remember from the chiefs of chuckle at Reader’s Digest.

February 18: Get your fill of fiber. The Mayo Clinic has suggested Americans need five to 10 grams of soluble fiber per day, as getting the right fiber fix can slow cholesterol absorption in the blood stream. Scoop today’s challenge for nutritionists’ personal favorite recipes that are flush with fiber…yes, oatmeal cookies are on the menu.

February 19: Avoid manic Monday. If the traffic on your drive to work triggers stress, it’s could be taking more of a toll than you’re aware. Research in 2023 found that a trying commute can impact blood pressure over time. Read to determine whether it’s time to map out a breezier route.

February 20: Work out smarter, not harder. Getting the biggest bang for your heart health doesn’t necessarily mean an hour of incessant sweating and breathlessness. A sports cardiologist and specialist in heart disease prevention shares three simple strategies for your workout routine to keep your heart strong and optimize your recovery if you have had a cardiac event.

February 21: Know your value—your cholesterol value, that is. If you stay on track with regular check-ups, see where experts say a healthy cholesterol level should fall for an individual your age.

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February 22: A tip to sip. Cholesterol and blood pressure work hand-in-hand—high LDL cholesterol can coat the inside of your veins, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through. Just selecting one of these expert-recommended mid-day beverages can support healthy blood pressure.

February 23: Treat your teeth. Experts at institutions such as Harvard Medical School cite a connection between heart health and dental health, suggesting that an unhealthy diet or poor lifestyle choices can contribute to a decline in both. Today, see whether you’re accidentally guilty of the acts that give dentists heartburn—adjusting them even slightly may improve your general health.

February 24: Try these wholesome hacks for snacks. Guacamole, an apple with walnuts: The right foods will bind to cholesterol and help your body flush it out before it even hits your bloodstream, according to the nutritionist for Taste of Home who developed your recipe for today’s challenge.

February 25: Swap your sweetener. It’s wise to track your consumption of added sugar, as recent research reveals that some synthetic sweeteners also show links to stroke and cardiovascular risk. Let us put a buzz in your ear: Mother Nature produces a nectar that scientists recently found may lower cholesterol. Today, switch coffee and sugar for some tea and a hint of honey, use honey in a salad vinaigrette or to flavor your oatmeal. (Honey can boost your immunity, too!)

February 26: Sharpen your cholesterol IQ. In 2023, the American Heart Association revealed that 70% of stroke survivors said they’d had no idea this heart health metric affected them. It’s a good reminder: Have you scheduled your annual checkup this year?

February 27: Drop the habit. If you’re following your heart to take extraordinary care of yourself this year, one behavior is a definite no-no: Smoking. If you have a loved one who smokes or vapes, consider sharing how quickly their cells can regenerate and restore if they lay down the habit for good.

February 28: Five minutes to forever. A trainer shares four gentle exercises that science says can help reduce your risk of falls and some types of injury that can lead to early death. Trying these four simple moves can keep you moving safely for the rest of your years. Our favorite part is that this mobility routine only takes five minutes.

February 29: Get away. Time off isn’t a luxury—researchers found using your vacation time is a necessity for preventing premature death. Inspired to brainstorm your next vacation spot? Science suggests these eight destinations are paradise for lowering stress long-term.

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Heart-Healthy Recipes

If you want to continue on your heart health journey after this 29-day challenge is over, try more of these delicious, good-for-you recipes!

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