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"The LILI Letter" - April 2024

The Heart Center, weight loss/wellness support group newsletter

Jennifer James
April 12, 2024


Are we there yet? Spring, that is. It is snowing as I write this. Things always seem better in April, because we know that winter is (mostly) behind us. Time to kick off the warm-weather exercise routine and take advantage of the spring produce, like asparagus! Wishing you an optimistic and beautiful month with kinder weather and all the blooms, buds and birdsong that come with it. We observe Eid al-Fitr, Passover and Earth Day.

In good health,
Jennifer James

Success story

Alas, I have not heard from the person who had agreed to write about their success, so I get to expound.

“Be at peace” is a phrase that has been rolling around in my noggin these days. Accepting our life as it is, with things we have no control over, brings peace to us (at least it does to me). Letting go of our need to have a particular outcome is very freeing. If the job situation isn’t working out, if we need to move on from a relationship, if our children choose to be starving artists instead of engineers, and if a person or situation stubbornly persists in being who/what he/she/it is, in spite of our best efforts to change things, we come to that solid, unyielding wall. Once we accept it, calm and peace enters our lives.

Maybe our lives haven’t gone as planned, which is the case for nearly all of us, me thinks. We keep gnawing on that bone, wanting it all to be so different from how it really is. It comes to a point when we finally realize and accept that “it is what it is”, heartily grieve it, and move on. Coming to that realization, and letting it all go, settles our minds and hearts. It may take us a while to get there, but when we do, the gift of peace comes with it. May you all be at peace, my friends.

Do you really know…asparagus?

This common springtime vegetable is native to Siberia, all the way to southern Africa, it was brought to North America by the European settlers. If you are from this area, you may have collected asparagus from your local neighborhood ditch. If grown in the shade or underground, it is white. Sunlight stimulates it to turn green. Caesar Augustus was very fond of it, sending out elite military units to collect it. “Asparagus” was mistakenly referred to as “sparrow grass” in the 1700’s in England. It is high in fiber, vitamin K, folate, and smaller amounts of vitamins A and C. See below for ways to prepare this interesting vegetable.

Asparagus | Description, Major Species, Vegetable, & Facts | Britannica
10 Surprising Facts About Asparagus - Modern Farmer

It’s a stretch

We are all familiar with why aerobic and strength exercises are so good for us. The unsung hero is stretching. Many of us don’t stretch on a regular basis. There are some surprising benefits to stretching regularly, confirmed from two large studies, one conducted in the US and the other in South Korea. The US study found a 20% reduction in all-cause mortality (meaning dying from any cause) in those who regularly stretched. The Korean study, with over 34,000 people, found regular stretching (5 or more times per week) compared to no stretching, was inversely associated with a decrease in all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. This means that the more someone stretched, the less likely they were to die sooner, from anything, including heart disease.

How is this possible? Does it really make that much of a difference? Apparently, it does. Any movement is good for our bodies, even something as low-key as stretching. My exercise physiology coworkers teach the wellness/weight loss class participants to include flexibility at least 2-3 times per week as part of their exercise plan. The benefits include more strength. Huh? Any time we put pressure on our muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments and bones, by lengthening the muscle, which we do in stretching, it encourages these parts of our body to become stronger. We won’t build strength to the degree we would with weight training, but there is a small increase.

Stretching reduces arterial stiffness, increases blood flow, decreases heart rate and blood pressure. Stretching improves our mobility. It improves our flexibility, which makes it easier to perform activities with less of a chance of injuring ourselves. It also improves performance. When we are flexible we have a greater range of motion, making movements easier and more efficient. When one part of us works better, it helps the other parts work better too. It also helps us with balance.

If you are not making stretching a regular part of your routine, I highly encourage you to reconsider. For most of us, stretching AFTER a workout when everything is warm is a perfect time for it. Hold the stretch for 30-60 seconds for the most benefit. Stretch to the point of a little tightness or slight discomfort, but not pain. The benefits are multiple.

Aerobic, muscle-strengthening, and flexibility physical activity and risks of all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a population-based prospective cohort of Korean adults - PMC (

Animal protein & atherosclerosis

I chanced upon an interesting article about how a particular amino acid (protein building block), affects our risk for atherosclerosis. It explains, in part, why eating large amounts of animal products, typically high in protein, may not be so great for us in relation to heart disease.

The researchers looked at monocytes, a type of white blood cell that is part of our immune system and the inflammatory process. Research on animals does show a connection between a high animal protein intake and a higher risk of developing atherosclerosis. Did it show the same effect in humans?

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh gave 14 people, divided into two groups, either a high-protein shake with 50% of calories from protein, or a shake with 10% of calories from protein after a 12-hour fast. Total calories were the same between the shakes. Blood draws were done over the next few hours. Later on, the groups were switched, and the high-protein shake drinkers then drank the lower protein version, and visa versa. A parallel study fed people a meal of solid food, one high in protein (22%) or low in protein (15%), which was more like what people actually consume. Their blood was also analyzed.

All proteins are broken down into amino acids through digestion. The researchers narrowed it down to seven amino acids, which were higher in the high-protein group’s blood, compared to the concentration of amino acids in the low-protein group’s blood. They then exposed monocytes to each of these amino acids in cell cultures, at quite high levels, and at lower levels ,which would approximate the average protein content of a solid meal. They used very sophisticated laboratory equipment to measure this. The amino acid that activated monocytes the most was leucine. Leucine is found in varying degrees in both plant and animal-based proteins. But it tends to run higher in animal protein. So, what does this mean? That a diet high in animal protein may be more likely to set us up for atherosclerosis and eventual heart disease, than a diet lower in animal protein. It boils down to the amino acid leucine, which was very good at activating the monocytes, the cells which increase inflammation.

The study was obviously very small, but it was well-controlled. With the high-protein diet craze these days, it may be a good idea to walk it back, and just eat a healthy, balanced diet, that includes more plant-based proteins, such as dried beans and nut butters, and ratchet back the amount of animal protein we eat. Food for thought.

Wilson, F. Perry. (2024, February 20). Why high protein diets may lead to atherosclerosis.


When I went on a stunningly beautiful weekend trip to New Mexico with a bicycle club I belonged to years ago, I remember something one of the male riders said on the drive home. He commented on how beautiful the scenery was, and because he had been so intent on riding as quickly as possible, he missed out on enjoying the beauty of the ride. There was a wistfulness to his comment that I have always remembered. How many times have we rushed through something, only to look back on it and wished we had slowed down and enjoyed it more?

What causes us to rush? Running late is a big reason. Finishing a less enjoyable task or piling on more than we can accomplish in a day are other reasons. I generally race through buying groceries, because I don’t enjoy it as much as golfing, or other activities, so I try to get it over with quickly. I want to fast-forward through the less enjoyable activities, which I am sure many of us do. We may become very focused on finishing every task we set before us for the day, and rush around so everything gets crossed off the list. It can get to the point where we are so used to rushing, that we continue to do this when we don’t need to, say on a relaxed Sunday afternoon. If we always try to work through traffic faster, even when we don’t need to be anywhere at a particular time, what are we doing, exactly?

What are the downsides to all of the rushing? We make mistakes, forget things, misplace things, slam our fingers in the car door (moi), get into more accidents, miss things and drive ourselves nuts because we are in such a hurry. It activates the fight or flight response, which increases our blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, tendency for our blood to clot more easily, and so on. Clearly not a good strategy for us.

To help ourselves slow down, consider this: leave enough time to be on time. Be realistic about what to accomplish in a day, maybe leave one task for another time. Ask ourselves, “do I need to be in a hurry today?”. Have an intention to go through our day at a more relaxed pace than usual. Notice how this makes us feel. Running around like our hair is on fire is not an enjoyable way to live. Let’s take a few breaths, slow down and enjoy the moment, instead of hurrying to the next thing.

Asparagus, as you like it

Roasted asparagus

There are a variety of ways to prepare this delicious vegetable. First, trim the stems by snapping them off where they naturally break, discarding the woody lower stem.

  • Grill: spritz with a little oil, season and grill over medium coals until lightly browned.
  • Blanch: cut into even pieces, and blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes.
  • Roast: spritz with a little oil, sprinkle with seasonings. Roast whole stalks at 425 degrees for 10-20 minutes, depending on their thickness. When slightly browned, or fork tender, remove from the oven.
  • Sauté: in a hot skillet with oil and seasonings, for 5-7 minutes until fork tender.

Asparagus may be topped with a variety of different seasonings after cooking. Try lemon juice, grated parmesan, red pepper flakes, freshly ground black pepper, balsamic vinegar, sliced almonds, etc.

½ cup of cooked asparagus = 20 calories

April support groups & spring class

Support groups

  • Mondays, 2-3 pm
  • Heart Center Conference Room, ORMC Plaza, Suite #200

Free to graduates of the ORMC weight loss/wellness classes

Breaking Barriers to Well-Being and Weight Management
  • April 11-May 30
  • 8 weeks
  • Thursdays, 6-7:30 pm
  • $150
  • Heart Center Conference Room
  • ORMC Medical Plaza, Suite #200

Register in two ways:

At under Classes & Events,
OR call (866) 887-3999

ORMC employees and volunteers pay $120 with password
Call Jennifer at (801) 479-2133 for the password

Nature never rushes,
yet everything gets done.

Donald L. Hicks

April 12, 2024
Ogden Regional Medical Center