Taking Charge of Your Health

This book has resources and tips for improving your health and making healthy choices. You can live your best life by taking charge of your health!

Download the full booklet or view it on Issuu.

Understanding Health Information

Understanding health information and available services is necessary for you to make good health choices for you and your family. Nine out of ten adults struggle to understand and use health information when it is unfamiliar or complicated. Not understanding health information can make people sicker and cost them money.

How do you know you’re looking at good health information? Start with good sources!

  • MedlinePLUS
  • Most local hospital websites
  • Major non-profits like the American Heart Association or the American Cancer Society
  • Government websites like the CDC

MedlinePLUS at a Glance

MedlinePlus is an online health information resource for patients and their families and friends. It is a service of the National Library of Medicine (NLM), the world’s largest medical library, and a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

MedlinePlus provides high-quality, relevant health and wellness information that is trusted and easy to understand, in both English and Spanish. It is health information available anytime, anywhere, for free. There is no advertising on this website, and MedlinePlus does not endorse any companies or products.

You’ll find information on a number of health topics, human genetics, medical tests, medications, dietary supplements, healthy recipes, and more. This information is sourced from more than 1,600 selected organizations.

MedlinePlus provides 40,000 links to authoritative health information in English and 18,000 links to information in Spanish.


Health Risks of Tobacco Use

Tobacco use harms nearly every organ of the body.

  • Smoking – More than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
  • Secondhand Smoke – Secondhand smoke causes stroke, lung cancer, and coronary heart disease in adults. Children who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, middle ear disease, and severe asthma.
  • E-Cigarettes – E-cigarettes are tobacco products and contain nicotine and other harmful substances. Like other tobacco products, they are not safe, especially for youth, young adults, pregnant adults, and adults who do not currently use tobacco products.

Quitting Tobacco Use

When you quit smoking, your health improves every day!

  • 20 minutes after your last cigarette your blood pressure and heart rate will start to return to normal levels.
  • 12 to 24 hours after your last cigarette your carbon monoxide levels return to normal and your risk of heart attack is reduced significantly.
  • 2 to 3 weeks after your last cigarette your risk of heart attack drops and your lung function improves.
  • 1 to 9 months after quitting your shortness of breath decreases and you cough less.
  • 1 year after quitting your added risk of coronary heart disease is reduced by half compared to a smoker’s.
  • 5 to 15 years after quitting your risk of having a stroke is the same as a nonsmoker’s and your risk of getting mouth, throat, or esophageal cancer is half that of a smoker’s.
  • 10 years after quitting your risk of getting cancer of the larynx, kidney, pancreas, or cervix decreases and your risk of getting bladder cancer is half that of a smoker’s.
  • 15 years after quitting your risk of coronary heart disease is the same as that of a nonsmoker.

Resources to Help You Quit

QuitlineNC provides free, 24/7 cessation services to any North Carolina resident who wants help quitting tobacco use. Quit Coaching is available in different forms, which can be used separately or together.

  • Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or 1-855-Déjelo-Ya (1-855-335-3569)
  • Text “READY” to 200-400 to register via text
  • Register online at www.quitlinenc.com

Benefits of Healthy Eating

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy are all essential parts of a healthy diet.

Fruits and vegetables provide essential vitamins and nutrients to help your mind and body. Fruits, such as bananas, prunes, cantaloupe, and oranges, and vegetables such as sweet potatoes, lima beans, spinach, and kidney beans, provide potassium to help maintain healthy blood pressure. Fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber help reduce cholesterol levels, maintain proper bowel function, and keep you feeling full longer. Choose whole or cut up fruits instead of fruit juice. Many fruits, such as citrus fruits and berries, contain vitamin C, which helps keep your teeth and gums healthy, helps your body heal cuts and wounds, and boosts your immune system. Folate (folic acid) is found in many fruits and vegetables and is important in the production of red blood cells. Women of childbearing age need even higher amounts of folate in their diet and need to supplement with synthetic folic acid. Including lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet can help lower your risk of heart attack and stroke.  Some fruits and vegetables can help protect your body from certain types of cancer. Vitamin A is found in many vegetables and helps keep your eyes and skin healthy.

Whole grains provide many nutrients that our bodies need. Eating whole grains as part of your healthy diet may reduce your chance of heart attack or stroke. Whole grains can help digestion and help you feel full longer, which may help with weight management. Whole grains contain B vitamins that are essential to your metabolism. They help your body release and use the energy from foods. Selenium and magnesium are found in whole grains. These nutrients help with building bones and a healthy immune system.

Proteins are the “building blocks” of your body. Proteins are essential for the development of bones, muscle, cartilage, skin, and blood. Protein can be found in meat, fish, poultry, beans, eggs, nuts, and seeds. The vitamins and nutrients found in each protein are different, so make sure you eat a variety of protein throughout the week.

Dairy such as milk, yogurt, and cheese provide essential nutrients for your body. Calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, and other nutrients are found in dairy products. For children, dairy is essential for building strong bones and teeth. For adults, dairy is important in preventing osteoporosis (a disease that causes bones to become brittle). Dairy also contains potassium, which helps control blood pressure.

Resources for Healthy Eating

Meal Ideas

  • For quick, easy, affordable, and healthy meals, look for recipes that meet your tastes here: https://snaped.fns.usda.gov/nutrition-education/recipes
  • Eating healthy doesn’t have to be expensive. Look for tips for eating healthy on a budget here: https://www.myplate.gov/eat-healthy/healthy-eating-budget

Simple Swaps

  • Change the color: Switch a white side like white rice or white potatoes for a colorful side like greens or sweet potatoes
  • Easy switches: Make easy changes like switching fruit in syrup for fruit in juice, veggies with no added sodium, and unsweetened applesauce
  • Trade your drink: Instead of soda, choose tea or coffee and add your own sweetener, or choose sparkling water
  • Don’t buy the hype: Fresh fruits and veggies can be nice to have but frozen fruits and veggies are just as healthy
  • Swap your protein: Trade out meat for beans or eggs a few days a week

Resources to Help You Access Healthy Food

  • Text FOOD or COMIDA to 877-877 to find a school meal site near you.
  • https://www.feedingamerica.org/find-your-local-foodbank
  • Food Bank of the Albermarle – 252-335-4035 – Afoodbank.org
  • Food Bank of Central and Eastern NC – 919-875-0707 – Foodbankcenc.org
  • Inter-Faith Food Shuttle – 919-250-0043 – Foodshuttle.org
  • MANNA Food Bank – 828-299-3663 – Mannafoodbank.org
  • Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina – 704-376-1785 – Secondharvestmetrolina.org
  • Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest NC – 336-784-5770 – Secondharvestnwnc.org
  • Second Harvest Food Bank of Southeast NC – 910-485-6923 – hungercantwait.org

Benefits of Physical Activity

Being physically active for at least 30 minutes every day can help live a better and longer life. Physical activity has many benefits:

  • Boosts heart, bone, lung, and muscle health
  • Lifts your mood
  • Lowers your blood pressure
  • Boosts your levels of good cholesterol
  • Improves blood flow (circulation)
  • Keeps your weight under control
  • Helps you manage stress and sleep better

The American Heart Association has great tips on how to get active. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/getting-active. Be Active Kids has resources for families, schools, and the community. https://www.beactivekids.org/

Resources for Being Physically Active

Free, Fun, and Fast Ideas to Stay Physically Active

  • To feel your best, most people need 30 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.
  • Find activities that you enjoy so you will stay motivated.
  • Hard to squeeze it in? Do 10 minutes three times a day!
  • Here are a few ideas:
    • Dance to two of your favorite songs in a row
    • Spend 10 minutes stretching and breathing deeply–you can even find free videos online!
    • Take a short walk outside.
    • Do a few needed chores: take out the trash, rake the leaves, sweep the porch

Find Places to Be Physically Active

  • We love our state parks! Use https://www.ncparks.gov/ to find state parks near you. For National Parks, historic sites, and other federally-managed places to be active, visit https://findyourpark.com/. For your city and county parks, start with your local government website. Most have a parks and recreation page!
  • Walk to work or school if you have a safe route.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • If you’ve got young children, get them active, too! Check out https://www.beactivekids.org/ for ways to get them moving!

Health Equity

Health equity means every person has the opportunity to attain their highest level of health. Health disparities occur when people have differences in quality of life, rates and severity of disease, access to treatment, disability, and death. The North Carolina Alliance for Health seeks to advance equitable policies that reduce health disparities, prevent chronic disease, and promote health. 

The American Public Health Association has a number of resources on how structural racism and discriminatory policies lead to health inequities, why health inequities hurt public health, and steps to take to achieve health equity. Check them out at https://www.apha.org/topics-and-issues/health-equity.

Your Voice Matters!

Tell your elected leaders about the issues that matter to you. Find and contact your state legislators at https://www.ncleg.gov/FindYourLegislators.

This project has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under Grant Number UG4LM012340 with the University of Maryland, Baltimore.