Across the globe, heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for both women and men. And it affects one in three American adult females, says the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR). Women find themselves with symptoms and risk factors that men don't—including menopause, when cardiovascular-friendly estrogen levels fall. That's especially important for women of African descent, as this group has much higher rates of cardiovascular disease than non-Hispanic whites. Why such a high risk for black women? There's a genetic component (the American Heart Association says research has found a gene that makes African-Americans more sensitive to salt), but lifestyle's a strong reason, too. And the reasons and risk factors behind their larger predisposition to heart disease are many, says the Heart Association. Think diabetes. Obesity. High blood pressure. For generations, adult females have often felt they needed to be 'superwomen'—putting the needs of their kids, families and significant others first and placing themselves last. Such caretaking may be cultural, but it can affect their health. Since February is both Black History Month and Heart Health Month in the United States, it's a good time to pump up the focus on cardiovascular conditions that particularly affect black women. 'It's making (health) a priority for themselves as women,' says Dr. Jennifer Jones-McMeans (shown at left), director of clinical programs and endovascular clinical science for Abbott's vascular business who's studied the link between genetics, exercise, and high blood pressure. “Historically, African-Americans have been an underserved population when it comes to healthcare and diet and physical activity,” she says. 'All that comes together. Unless we say, 'I'm going to exercise and take ownership of it,' it won't happen. I'm no good for my family if I'm not healthy.' Here are seven proactive lifestyle steps Dr. Jones-McMeans and other Abbott experts suggest black women can take to be smart about their hearts all year long.