February is American Heart Month, a time to think about not just who we love, but how healthy our hearts and lives are. We've put together a list of seven of the best charities most deserving of your support.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death of both men and women in America, so setting aside a month to focus on how to prevent it and recognize its signs is vital for all of us.

Here are a few important facts about heart disease from the CDC:

  • About 600,000 people in America die from heart disease each year, which translates to one in four.
  • Nearly 715,000 Americans will have a heart attack this year.
  • Cardiovascular disease, which includes heart disease and stroke, is the leading cause of disability in the United States, keeping many Americans from working and enjoying life.
  • Heart disease is controllable and preventable.

If you want to be part of the solution, here are some places you can go to make a donation to a trusted source (you can check Charity Navigator for a more complete list of researched and rated organizations):

  • American Heart Association: The AHA is probably the most vocal educator on the topic of heart disease. It is a voluntary health agency with a mission to “build healthier lives, free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.” They have a track record of being very transparent about how they spend their money, so you know where your donation is going. If you check their website, you can see how financial support is divided, as well as the kinds of outreach and research they’re doing. And, with their Go Red campaign, the AHA has been instrumental in advocating heart health for women and educating the population on just how big a killer heart disease is among women. (4-star ranking on Charity Navigator)
  • Masonic Medical Research Laboratory: The Masonic Medical Research Laboratory's mission is “to conduct high-quality basic medical research aimed at generating knowledge and information necessary for development of the medical cures and treatments of tomorrow.” Their areas of research include ischemic heart disease, cardiac arrhythmias, sudden cardiac arrest and other aspects of cardiovascular disease. They are a highly transparent nonprofit, and a high percentage of their donated funding goes toward program expenses. (4-star ranking on Charity Navigator)
  • Rockefeller University: More than a hundred years ago, John D. Rockefeller founded Rockefeller University, which is now a world-renowned center for research and education in biomedical science and other disciplines. The university has more than 70 laboratories that conduct both clinical and basic research. Their mission is to improve “the understanding of life for the benefit of humanity.” The university’s unique relationship with Rockefeller Hospital has linked laboratory research with bedside observation and aided in such discoveries as the confirmation of the connections between cholesterol and heart disease, and an obesity gene and the weight-regulating hormone leptin. Currently, they have clinical studies under way on heart disease and stroke, along with obesity, nutrition, weight loss and many others. (4-star ranking on Charity Navigator)
  • Minnesota Medical Foundation: The Minnesota Medical Foundation works to improve quality of life not only for the people of Minnesota, but also every American, as well as people around the world by supporting the advancement of health education, research and service. They study a broad range of health issues, including public health, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, infectious diseases, and even food safety and bioterrorism. They are also dedicated to educating health professionals and researchers. Some of their medical advances include the first-ever successful open-heart surgery using hypothermia, and the invention of the battery-operated pacemaker. Nearly 85 percent of their donated funds go to program expenses. (4-star ranking on Charity Navigator)
  • International Children’s Heart Foundation: The International Children’s Heart Foundation has been around for 20 years, attempting to “bring the skills, technology and knowledge to cure and care for children with congenital heart disease to developing countries.” The group organizes mission trips around the world, during which they educate local health care professionals and bring needed equipment and medications. They receive high scores for accountability and transparency; as of their last report, 89 percent of donations were spent on program expenses (meaning their charitable work). (4-star ranking on Charity Navigator)
  • WomenHeart: This group touts itself as “the only national organization dedicated to promoting women’s heart health through advocacy, education and patient support.” The 44 million American women who live with or are at risk of heart disease can get equal access to quality care, and WomenHeart provides women with information and resources to help them take charge of their own heart health. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women in America, so it’s important to get the message out to sisters, mothers and friends that they need to care for their hearts. (3-star ranking on Charity Navigator)
  • National Stroke Association: This group provides “education, services and community-based activities in prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and recovery. They serve everyone affected by stroke in the U.S., including those at risk, patients, health care providers, stroke survivors, as well as their families and caregivers. This organization gives Americans life-saving tools to prevent stroke. (3-star ranking on Charity Navigator)

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