What Is the Six-Minute Walk Test?

The American Thoracic Society describes the six-minute walk test as a measure of functional status or fitness. It is used as a simple measure of aerobic exercise capacity. The results of this test may or may not lead your doctor to do more sophisticated measures of your heart and lung function. During this test, you walk at your normal pace for six minutes. This test can be used to monitor your response to treatments for heart, lung and other health problems. This test is commonly used for people with pulmonary hypertension, interstitial lung disease, pre-lung transplant evaluation or COPD.

What to Expect When Doing the Test

Preparing for your test:

  • Wear clothes and shoes that are comfortable.
  • You may use your usual walking aids such as a cane or walker, if needed.
  • It is okay to eat a light meal prior to your test.
  • Take your usual medications.
  • Do not exercise within two hours of testing.

During the test:

  • The tester will measure your blood pressure, pulse and oxygen level usually with a pulse oximeter before you start to walk.
  • You should be given the following instructions: The object of the test is to walk as far as possible for six minutes. You will walk at your normal pace to a chair or cone, and turn around. And you continue to walk back and forth for six minutes.
  • Let the staff know if you are having chest pain or breathing difficulty.
  • It is acceptable to slow down, rest or stop. After every minute interval, you will be given an update.

Safety:

  • The tester will watch to see if you have breathing difficulty or chest pain.
  • Oxygen and other supplies will be nearby if you need them.

Understanding the Results

The results of your test are then compared to what is known to be normal for people in your weight, height, gender and age categories. They can be used to estimate response to treatment, especially if repeated after a time interval, for instance six months or a year later. After your test, your provider may change your medication or exercise program based on your results.

What Are the Risks?

This is a low-risk medical evaluation. Medical help is easily available while the test is being done.

Page last updated: February 19, 2020

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