Believe Big Podcast

18 - Abby Dixson - Movement is Medicine

August 16, 2022 Autumn Burns
Believe Big Podcast
18 - Abby Dixson - Movement is Medicine
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Exercise is important to a healthy lifestyle for everyone.  But what do you need to know about exercise if you are on a cancer journey?   Should cancer patients lift weights?  Should you exercise if you have nerve damage?  Is there a best time of day to exercise for those going through treatment?

Listen in today as I speak with Abby Dixson, owner and operator of MediFit.  She will answer these questions and more as she shares her expertise as a medical and cancer exercise specialist. 

Connect with Abby Dixson at MediFit:
https://medifitnow.com/

Suggested Resource Links:

Ivelisse Page:

Hi, I'm Ivelisse Page. And thanks for listening to the Believe Big podcast, the show where we take deep dive into your healing with health experts, integrative practitioners, biblical faith leaders and cancer thrivers from around the globe. Welcome to today's episode on the Believe Big podcast. My name is Ivelisse Page and it's an honor to spend this time with you. We all know that exercise is vital to a healthy life. But what about during cancer treatments? How does one know what's safe and beneficial? What does the latest research show? Today you will hear from my friend Abby Dickson, who is a medical and cancer exercise specialist to talk about these very things. Abby's passion is to help clients achieve healthier lives through safe, effective exercise and nutrition. She has many certifications, including medical exercise and post rehab conditioning specialist is certified by the Cancer Exercise Training Institute and is the owner and operator of MediFit. She is married to her husband and cancer thriver Jamie Dixson for over 40 years. Welcome Abby to the show.

Abby Dixson:

Thank you.

Ivelisse Page:

Before we begin, our listeners are always interested in finding out what our guest's favorite health tip is, and so can you share yours with us?

Abby Dixson:

I sure will. My mantra and favorite saying is movement is medicine. I have that painted over the mirror of my studio. So the first thing individuals or students will see when they come in, is that saying movement is medicine.

Ivelisse Page:

It sure is. It's when we stop moving that problems start to occur. Whether we are in a healthy state or in a sick state, it's so important to keep moving. So I love that movement is medicine. So Abby, can you share with us what got you interested in this side of exercise training?

Abby Dixson:

I actually began my fitness career as a group fitness instructor. I had studied dance prior to that, but began teaching fitness in the late eighties. And that kind of was a launching pad for my desire that I've always had to help and encourage individuals take charge of their health and I found after a couple years that students would come to me with different kinds of medical questions, health-oriented challenges, and I needed to pursue further certifications. So I went on and certified through the American Council On Exercise as a personal trainer and obtained several more certifications including a medical exercise specialist, post rehab conditioning specialist through the what is now the Medical Exercise Training Institute. Early in my practice, I would have women and men come to me who had a diagnosis of cancer whether it was a breast cancer, prostate cancer, thyroid cancer. I had a client with uterine and ovarian cancer. And I realized early on that not one exercise fits all. That there were specific protocols and a need to understand what the whole cancer process was including chemotherapies, radiations, and the effect on the body as a person was going through this. And then the after effects especially with surgeries. And then I had taken some courses through the account College of Sports Medicine, as a cancer exercise physiologist, but then certified as a cancer exercise specialist through CD, which is the Cancer Exercise Training Institute. And so that's really how my journey began. Also my husband was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 with a rare soft tissue sarcoma. And even though I had already been working with cancer patients periodically, that kind of thrust me into a little more research and understanding of the complexities of exercise recovery for cancer patients.

Ivelisse Page:

You've been a friend of Believe Big for many years, you and Jamie, and I was just so excited and I'll share with those who are listening that you shared with me before we started today, the broadcast that Jamie is now five years N.E.D. (no evidence of disease) of his sarcoma. So that is just fabulous! And I know that we are talking about exercise, but what would you say are the top three things that you believed has caused him to have such success with a difficult cancer like sarcoma?

Abby Dixson:

Prayer that led to the quest to find an alternative to his cancer diagnosis, because he did have several recurrences, which is what led me to call you, Ivelisse. A friend of mine, Betsy Goodman told me about Believe Big, and I learned about the mistletoe and we were both very much into health and wellness before his diagnosis, very much into balanced nutrition, buying organic. And I would say we had a pretty healthy lifestyle, but we also learned through this journey that he went through that there were things that even though we were eating healthy, that needed to be eliminated such as sugars, processed food, which we didn't eat a lot of, but we really did eliminate a lot of that once he was diagnosed. I would say the mistletoe, and his doctors have agreed, has been a great game changer.

Ivelisse Page:

That's amazing. I love hearing stories like that because it just encourages me, and others that are listening of what God can do. And to see the power of the changes that you made in his health that has caused him not only to be no evidence of disease, but for so long for five years. Let's get back to the exercise portion of what we are talking about here today. So Harvard Health shares that in a major analysis of, I think 28 trials and it involved over a thousand participants with advanced cancers and exercise program during treatment that was associated with significantly improved physical function, energy levels, weight, psychosocial function, sleep quality, and overall quality of life. Is that what you see in your practice?

Abby Dixson:

Absolutely, and there have been many studies that confirm this. Individuals who pursue, whether they were exercising prior to their diagnosis or not. When a person makes the decision that they want to get stronger, they need to improve their endurance. They want to improve their flexibility because as we know certain treatments such as radiation therapy can cause fibrosis, stiff joints depending on where the radiation has occurred. And they want to stay agile as much as possible post surgery. And it also helps with helping a person deal with the normal challenges, emotional challenges, that one can have once they have a diagnosis. There's many challenges. Cancer can be a game changer in terms of how your life looks So it helps with mood and helping a person feel that they are taking charge of their body where this diagnosis has interrupted that sense of control.

Ivelisse Page:

I completely agree. I'm so grateful that I was physically fit before I got sick. After my surgeries, I remember it was difficult to even get out of bed for my walks around the hospital. I couldn't imagine how much more difficult it would've been for me if I didn't start off being strong, but not everyone is at that point from the beginning. What do you recommend for patients who have never really exercised? Is it okay for them to start during treatment?

Abby Dixson:

Yes, and several years ago doctors would hesitate. But more and more doctors are saying, yes, do some type of movement therapy, whether it's just five or ten minutes of stretching, breath work, shoulder shrugs, doing ankle pumps, just moving your feet a little bit, wiggling your toes, marching in place, whether it's standing or seated. Doing little, I always say to my clients, small steps make big strides. So starting with just small amounts of movement. And as you said, you, it was hard to get out of bed even to get to the bathroom, but just making small, intentional steps can gain great gains.

Ivelisse Page:

Yeah, I experienced, and I know many listening too, experienced cancer related fatigue after my surgeries. And for those who aren't familiar with cancer related fatigue, it's different from fatigue without cancer. It doesn't get better with rest. So some people with cancer related fatigue may even feel too tired eat or to walk and it can last for months or even years. And there are many things that can be done to manage it. And for me, mistletoe was at the top of the list. One of the properties of mistletoe is that it increased my energy levels in strength, post surgeries. But I also read, as I was preparing for today's episode, that light exercise like walking or riding a bike can help as well. What have you found to be best for patients who experience that cancer related fatigue? That the thought of exercising is even overwhelming?

Abby Dixson:

It depends on the type of cancer and the type of treatment. I always say walking because we can walk around our home. We can walk to the mailbox, we can do small activities of daily living that require movement. And sometimes that might be the best a person can do for a month, two months, sometimes six months after treatment, but just being intentional to do something to move. There's a lot of inflammation and we want to improve circulation however we can to reduce the inflammation and to boost immunity, and that will also boost mood. So when we feel like we are able to do tasks, even if it's sitting at our desk and opening up the mail something that requires movement, getting up and down out of a chair for some person. Some individuals might be just sitting at their table potting plants and then getting up and down two or three times. I always encourage individuals to stand by their sink and do heel raises just five, 10 heel raises. Just small incremental things that will improve mobility, agility, and endurance. And eventually we build on that. And one of my biggest concerns with clients who have gone through radiation uh is lymphedema. And so we want to make sure that a person be cautious in certain types of activities. Especially on the side of the body where there has been a surgical process or radiation. So helping that person understand what their contraindications are for them in exercise is also extremely important.

Ivelisse Page:

What do you say to patients who have lymphedema?

Abby Dixson:

If they have been diagnosed with lymphedema, we want to make sure that they have gotten the care that they need through a lymphedema specialist. But if it's managed, I always will require that my clients wear a compression sleeve on the side of the body, if it's their right if they've had a mastectomy on the right side that they wear the compression sleeve. I always measure and make sure there's no indication of changes in between sessions. We do lymphedema drainage movements, exercises, reaching up with our hands and doing different things to make sure that we're moving that lymphatic fluid through that thoracic duct. If it's lower extremity that the surgery has occurred, we do things on our back like pelvic tilts and different types of movements, stretching movements to get that circulation going and to get that fluid moving out to release those toxins.

Ivelisse Page:

That's great, thank you. Thankfully I didn't have the lymphedema, but I know that many patients suffer through that. So those are some great things that people can do even at home. Is there a best time to exercise for those who are going through treatment?

Abby Dixson:

When you feel able to. Some of us are morning people, some of us are midday, some evening people and as you mention, it depends on the fatigue. I know that in my husband's case, the mornings are tough for him. His morning starts best around 11:00 AM but he is definitely a night person, so come late afternoon is his best time to exercise.

Ivelisse Page:

And how does one know how much is too much, especially someone who has always exercised and they're used to doing certain amounts? What are some guidelines or things that they should watch out for to know that they're not overdoing it?

Abby Dixson:

I always say post-surgery to really start very carefully, 10 to 15 minutes of walking or until you feel tired. When a person's gone through chemotherapy, sometimes there's some residual effects such as breathlessness or anemia, so we wanna make sure that there's nothing that is creating added complications to exercise. We always wanna make sure that they have clearance to exercise from their doctor. And, of course the American College of Sports Medicine recommends three to five times a week, up to 30 minutes, maximally 45 minutes. But that doesn't mean that it's totally at the same time. You could do a 10 to 15 minute walk earlier in the day. I will guide clients in doing resistance work with light weights. But it really depends on the condition of the person, their fitness level prior to their surgery and treatment and where they are when they want to start. So always start out very conservatively and then we gauge how the progression of their exercise program should move forward. And so that's why consulting with a cancer exercise specialist is really important. A person for example, who's waiting for reconstruction after a mastectomy, there are definitely things that individual should not do such as chest press and things of that nature because they can cause major problems for themselves. So I really recommend a person contact someone who's certified and highly qualified to guide a person in their individual program. So individuals, a lot of times feel like exercise should be hard and rigorous and that is not the case.

Ivelisse Page:

I agree. And it's just like you said, moving, getting the blood flowing. It's helping your cells to recover and continuing on with that flexibility. Like you said, it could just be walking to the mailbox to get the mail and coming back. So that was great advice.

Abby Dixson:

And I always recommend put on music that just inspires you and that's upbeat and will help with your breath. It's such a great motivator, music.

Ivelisse Page:

It really is. What about patients that have nerve damage in their legs? What do you recommend for them?

Abby Dixson:

It depends. If it's neuropathy from chemo or if there's been some type of nerve that has been damaged I do a full assessment. I do a postural assessment. I review range of motion. Certain movements may cause tingling and discomfort. So I recommend gentle stretching, not going beyond where you feel any kind of residual pain. We don't work through pain. You may feel some discomfort, but we don't want you to be working through pain. So the nerve pain can be a result of a temporary thing, or it can be long term. So I always prescribe and assign a stretching program that would enhance circulation that would help to support the tendons and the ligaments so that they can release oxygenated blood to the muscles to help reduce some pain that a person is experiencing.

Ivelisse Page:

Does exercise help to prevent lymphedema?

Abby Dixson:

Yes, it can. Doing the lymphatic drainage exercises, shoulder shrugs, again, it's moving. Blood flow through your extremities, through the joints, into the muscle. Certain things that can prevent lymphedemia from becoming long term and chronic, because the literature says that it's irreversible but it can be managed, is to not wear tight fitting clothing on that side of the body where you have had surgery, like a tight wristband. Sometimes people wear sweatbands. Don't put that on your arm if that's the side of your body where you've had a surgery. Don't get vaccines or shots on the side of the body where you've had any type of lymphatic inflammation occur, because that can definitely increase the situation to make it worse.

Ivelisse Page:

Wow, I've never heard that, but it makes sense if you're having issues with those lymph, that helps to detox your body, then you know, to make sure to avoid those extremities is important. I never thought about that.

Abby Dixson:

Exactly, and try not to be overheated. So I make sure that my studio is at a comfortable, temperature with fans. If it's very hot outside, like it is right now avoid walking in the heat that can increase your risks for lymphedema.

Ivelisse Page:

That's great. And should cancer patients lift weights?

Abby Dixson:

Absolutely, but you want to make sure that you have clearance from your doctor and we always start very light. For someone who has a lot of fatigue and if they've had a type of surgery where they've had a muscle removed, such as in a soft tissue sarcoma, you want to make sure that there's complete healing. But yes, definitely, doing resistance training is very important to strengthening the whole body. You just want to make sure that you're starting out very light. Sometimes the bicep curls and different types of exercises with water bottles, and that's about all they can lift. And they are so happy when they can get to a two pound weight and then eventually to a five pound weight, but we wanna do it very carefully and gradually. I do have cancer thrivers right now who are doing great with resistance training. We also can use Dyna-Bands help with all types of resistance work for both the upper and lower body.

Ivelisse Page:

Yeah, I love the bands. Jimmy, my husband travels with them and it's the ones that it gets attached to doors. He said he gets a great workout no matter where he is he feels like he could still exercise. Bands are great because it's that resistance, but it's also gentle enough and strong enough to really meet where you are at your fitness level. So it's a nice, safe way.

Abby Dixson:

That's so true. And I use them in some of my classes and with some of my clients. Many of my clients, a small ball about a nine inch ball and we use that to help facilitate movement. If a person can't lie down on the floor, we do seated core work using the ball. There's all kinds of wonderful tools and props and things that you can use to facilitate movement, even the sliders. And if a person doesn't have sliders, we use paper plates moving the body and the lower body. There's a lot of fun things you do. And I believe that exercise movement should be fun. It should be enjoyable and not treacherous or a drudgery. I love to help people find a way to move that's enjoyable.

Ivelisse Page:

And I think you said something really great there, and it's enjoyable. There's so many exercises that are out there and I avoid running like the plague. I am not a runner, but you put a pickle ball paddle in my hand. My husband and I just started playing disc golf, you know anything active like that, I love. So, for exercises choosing things that you enjoy, if you don't enjoy doing an exercise, then you're gonna dread it and not be consistent and keep up with it. But if you find an activity that you enjoy, even walking, finding a friend to walk with in the neighborhood, then it makes that activity even more enjoyable. So I'm so thankful you shared that.

Abby Dixson:

And if you're a golfer, it is important to condition your body to sustain the many different movements of golf. It doesn't seem like it's a very physically challenging sport, but it is. And for certain men who go through cancer treatment, that is where they find their joy in movement. They may not be able to walk the course, but they could walk one hole. But if your shoulders are not in condition, if your core is not strong, you place yourself in more of a risk for injury. And that's another important thing for cancer patients and those recovering from cancer. We want to really reduce the risk of injury. And so understanding the effects of chemotherapy and radiation to the body short term and long term are very important. And that's why having someone to help you, guide you through those exercise programs is crucial,

Ivelisse Page:

Yeah, I agree. So what can a patient expect when they reach out to you at MediFit? Let's say someone's in California, I know you're in Maryland, are they able to get your assistance? Are you virtual at all or is it all in person?

Abby Dixson:

Yes. That is one of the silver linings of this pandemic. We learned how to do virtual trainings and appointments and classes. Several of my classes are still hybrid. I have students in my studio and then some who are still online and not just in Maryland, from all over the country. So yes, during the lockdown that was the only way that I could work was virtually. And I even learned how to do measurements for clients with lymphedema and work with them to make sure that all was well, even though I couldn't physically touch them. So yes, I do many virtual sessions as needed.

Ivelisse Page:

Sometimes our challenges makes us better in other ways. you found a way and I love that. It's good for our brains to try something new and do something different too, not only for the body to be fit for the mind to stay fit as well. One question for those who are listening, who don't have cancer, what would be your best advice for them?

Abby Dixson:

Get moving. I always tell my clients and my family and my friend's children, if you eat, you brush your teeth, you need to move. It's a lifestyle that needs to be hardwired into who we are. And, the benefits for preventing diabetes, heart disease, which is the number one killer of women, so many autoimmune conditions that can be managed through effective and safe exercise can so improve the quality of our lives And not just for the actual exercise program that we're doing. I love when I see someone gain and make strides forward. I can do a plank! I didn't even think I could even get on my elbows and hold that plank. We start with 10 seconds and if that's all we can do, that's fantastic. But it's just that we can better do the things that we enjoy. So it applies to every arena of our lives. That's why my, favorite saying is movement is medicine.

Ivelisse Page:

I love it. Abby in our last minute or so here is there anything that I haven't asked you that you would feel is important to share?

Abby Dixson:

I just wanna encourage all of the listeners. Everyone is an individual and with each person, regardless of your relationship with exercise in the past, you can achieve a healthier lifestyle with exercise whether you join a group fitness class or are a solitary walker the benefits will so improve the quality of your life and mood and ability to do the things into your eighties and nineties.

Ivelisse Page:

That's my goal. I wanna be active until the very, very end. And, you gave some really great advice today. I just appreciate you and Jamie so much. And thank you for all that you do for us at Believe Big and the patients that you help every day. You give not only of your knowledge, but of your heart and it shows through. And so I just wanted to thank you for taking the time today to speak with us and to share with us your knowledge for those who are listening.

Abby Dixson:

Well, thank you so much, Ivelisse and thank you, you're an inspiration to all of us.

Ivelisse Page:

If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to help support our podcast, please subscribe and share it with others. Be sure to visit believebig.org to access the show notes and discover our bonus content. Thanks again, and keep Believing Big!

What is your favorite health tip?
What got you interested in this side of exercise?
What are the top three things that best helped your husband succeed over his sarcoma?
Let's talk about the health improvements you see in cancer patients through your practice.
What do you recommend for patients who have never really exercised?
What is best for patients with cancer-related-fatigue?
What do you say for patients who have lymphedema?
Is there a best time to exercise for those going through treatment?
How does one know what is too much, especially someone who has always exercised?
What do you recommend for patients with nerve damage in their legs?
Does exercise help prevent lymphedema?
Should cancer patients lift weights?
What can a patient expect when they reach out to you at MediFit? Are you virtual or in-person?
What is your best advice for people who don't have cancer?
Any final advice of importance?