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After years of caregiving and hardship, exercise got her back on track

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Sandi Boller

After a difficult and stressful decade, Sandi Boller, 62, of O'Fallon, Mo., pulled herself back together to exercise, eat right and get healthy again.

The downturn for Sandi Boller began 15 years ago when her parents’ health began to fail. Then she had a stroke. Then her husband died.

Today, she is losing weight, back in good physical condition and over the past two years has dropped about 60 pounds. At 5 feet, 6 inches, she’s 169 pounds. Her goal is to lose 20 to 30 more pounds.


In 1999, Boller was at the top of her game. She’d just finished running a marathon to raise money for leukemia research. Exercise was part of her life, and her health was splendid. “I was in the best shape of my life,” she said.

Then her husband retired and began to develop health problems, one after the other — hip replacements, heart bypass surgery, heart valve surgery, then lung cancer.

Her father, in 2002, had a massive stroke that left him paralyzed. Her mom in that time developed symptoms of early Alzheimer’s disease and then had a stroke.

She and three sisters and brother cared for their parents. Her mom died in May 2006. Her father died in May 2007. Her husband died in January 2012.

In the midst of that turmoil, she had a stroke. But there was no reason to have a stroke, her doctors said.

Still, during a visit to St. Luke’s Hospital, while taking her mother to visit her neurologist, “I felt it happening,” she said. “I felt my phone ring, and I heard myself talking with slurred speech.

“I’d seen it happen to my parents, and I knew the symptoms.”

The neurologist who was to see Boller’s mother saw it happening — half of Boller’s face was drooping, she slurred speech, her arm and hand on one side of her body had stopped working — and administered stroke medicine. She was hospitalized for two days, but no one found a reason for the blood vessel to close.

“I have no aftereffects,” she said. “Nothing. It’s like I never had anything.” She attributes the stroke to stress.

She took the next year wrestling with grief and fatigue. She had a double knee replacement three months after her husband’s death. She attributes the procedure to arthritis aggravated by her having gained about 100 pounds during the decade-long ordeal.

She recuperated and began making decisions about her future.

“I downsized,” she said. “My husband was gone, and the eight children had grown up and left. Our house was on three acres of land, and that was more than I needed.

She moved to a smaller place with walkable streets in a subdivision in O’Fallon, Mo.


But she needed more.

“About two years ago, I saw my house was cluttered, and I started cleaning it out,” she said. “Then I decided it was time to declutter me. Once you eliminate a lot of the stuff in your life, you feel freer. It’s gradual, but I needed to do this.”

She started walking, she and her dog, around the subdivision. Then she started attending a YMCA. She’d had a membership for years but had stopped using it.

The norm is exercise five days a week. Three are with the Y Weight program, a group working with a personal trainer on weight exercise.

“And Zumba; I love Zumba,” she said.

The artificial knees held up, she said.

Numerous studies indicate exercise improves mood and can even relieve clinical depression by releasing feel-good brain — neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids — reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression, increasing body temperature, which may have calming effects.

All Boller knew was she was feeling better with the exercise.

Still, from 1999 to 2013, she had gone from about 130 pounds to 232 pounds of mostly stress weight. So she had to find ways to get rid of the accumulation of more than a decade of stress.

“Food was a comfort for me,” she said. In fact, eating the diet she was eating conflicted with her exercising.

So she shut down morning, lunch and dinner trips to fast-food restaurants. “I had so much going on, so much to do, I’d just stop by and get a burger, fries and a cookie.”

I addition, “I’m a snacker — chocolate and things that are sweet or salty.”

She changed her eating habits. “I made some changes; I didn’t stop eating anything I liked,” she said. “I just ate less of it, portion sizes.”

She cooks more at home, but she still likes going out. “I just watch what I’m eating and take some of it home,” she said.

The pounds came off slowly, she said, but that’s what she wanted. By eating in a healthful manner and exercising, weight loss was/is the byproduct, she said. “This isn’t a temporary diet,” she said. “It’s a way of life.”

The change has been worth it, she said. Now she can interact with her grandchildren with no problem moving. Her health numbers are all in acceptable ranges, she said. “I’m off all of the blood pressure and other medication I was on,” she said.

And one more guilty pleasure. “I used to just buy big clothes that were comfortable,” she said. “Now I really have fun buying clothes.”

She and a sister take annual trips together now, but her primary pastime is de-stressing, “playing solitaire on my iPad and reading,” she said. “Just sitting back and shutting my brain down.”

Do you know a ‘How I did it?’

Suggest a candidate to:

Harry Jackson Jr.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

900 North Tucker Boulevard

St. Louis, Mo. 63101-1099

Email •

Phone • 314-340-8234

Sandi Boller
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Harry Jackson is a health reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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