It’s not yet Halloween, but chilly 30-degree temperatures couldn’t
keep walkers away from East Boulder Community Park on Saturday, Oct. 12.
Eighty-five participants dressed warmly for the weather to enjoy October’s
Walk with a Doc, take a lap or two around the park, and learn about “Shortness
of Breath -- Causes and Risk Factors” from
Dr. Clark Berngard of Boulder Valley Pulmonology.
Breathlessness, or shortness of breath, describes discomfort or difficulty
with breathing. When people experience breathlessness, they describe it
in different ways. Common phrases are “short of breath,” “tightness
in my chest” or “can’t get enough air.” This feeling
can be uncomfortable and scary, but does not mean damage to your lungs.
“As we get older, if we get injured or we’ve been sedentary
for a while – our body has less reserve,” said Dr. Berngard
at Walk with a Doc. “When we exercise and we haven’t been
exercising regularly, we call it aerobic metabolism – which is the
good kind of cardiovascular exercise.”
Dr. Berngard said there are a multitude of things that can contribute to
shortness of breath.
“Sepsis or even an infection in our joints can cause shortness of
breath. Heart and lung conditions are generally two other categories causing
shortness of breath; things like asthma, COPD, and acute and chronic blood
clots,” Dr. Berngard said. “Conditions of the heart –
long-standing hyperternsion and blood pressure – over time can lead
to a stiff heart, making it harder for the heart to contract and relax.
This can cause blood to back up in the veins with fluid around the heart,
(triggering) that similar sensation of shortness of breath.”
With the popularity of vaping, Dr. Berngard reiterated that tobacco smoke
is irritating to the lungs.
“Vaping is very common right now, and some of the chemicals in vaping
are very toxic,” he said. “Marijuana smoke, often, also makes
people feel more anxious and shorter of breath.”
How to Treat Breathlessness
The American Thoracic Society suggests a few ways to avoid shortness of
1. Take your medication as prescribed
2. Learn breathing techniques
3. Build up your stamina (strength)
4. Pace yourself
5. Try not to hold your breath
6. Sit in front of a fan
7. Ask about other medications
Dr. Berngard advises anyone in doubt or concerned about their health to
get evaluated by a primary care provider.
In a healthy person, very strenuous exercise, extreme temperatures, bad
air quality, obesity and high altitude can all cause shortness of breath.
But in non-extreme situations, shortness of breath may be a sign of a
“If you feel short of breath beyond what would be expected for your
age and your physical condition, get evaluated,” Dr. Berngard said.
“If you feel shorter of breath lying down or lying flat, it’s
reasonable to get evaluated. If you feel like you have any chest pain
or new leg swelling, that’s also reason for evaluation.”
For those who are cleared to exercise by their medical provider, Dr. Berngard
says “exercise is probably paramount and the cornerstone of treatment
to shortness of breath.”
“Start with 5 to 10 minutes of simple walking and hand weights, 3
to 5 times a week and then increase the intensity and duration,”
he said. “In general, my rule of thumb is ‘If you’re
not pushing yourself hard enough to feel short of breath, you’re
probably not exercising vigorously enough.’” “It’s
OK to feel short of breath when you exercise.”
Next Walk with a Doc
Thank you to
Dr. Nelson Trujillo, WWAD’s lead physician and board-certified cardiologist at Boulder
Community Health; program coordinator Gina Simmering; the BCH Foundation;
and all of our sponsors for making these great and healthy walks possible,
including 50 Plus Marketplace, AMR – Boulder County City of Boulder
and Longmont, Bobo’s Oat Bars, Boston Scientific, Cedar & Hyde
Mercantile, City of Boulder Parks and Recreation, Cultivate, Eldorado
Natural Spring Water, Elements Massage, Embassy Suites Boulder, Natural
Grocers, Parc Mosaic Apartment Homes, Pedestrian Shops, SomaLogic, Starbucks,
Wallaroo Hat Company and Walk with a Doc.
Join us for our next Walk with a Doc on Saturday, Nov. 9 at North Boulder
Park (2848 9th Street in Boulder) from 8-9 a.m. Dr. Jason Glowney with
Boulder Biologics will talk about “Joint Health & Staying Active.”
Don’t forget that at each Walk with a Doc:
• BCH’s Clinical Education team will demonstrate “hands-only”
CPR techniques you can learn in just minutes!
• BCH pharmacists will be on hand to answer your medication-related
• There are free blood pressure checks, free giveaways and free refreshments
(including coffee from Starbucks).
For a full list of walks and more details, go to
To learn more about shortness of breath, reference the following links
provided by Dr. Berngard: *
Double-sided handout from the American Thoracic Society =
Long-form from the American Lung Association =
* Both links were used as sources for this blog.