What Is the Six-Minute Walk Test?

Walk Test. Credit: Ariel Skelley

A six-minute walk test is usually done at the start of a pulmonary rehabilitation program or to evaluate a person for lung surgery. The test measures the distance you can walk quickly on a flat, hard surface in six minutes and reflects your ability to perform daily physical activities.

Determining the physical capability of a person with COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, is an important aspect of planning the appropriate clinical treatment.

Because many people, especially those who are elderly, are unable to perform the standard treadmill-based exercise test used to evaluate exercise capacity, the six-minute walk test was developed as a valid alternative. 

Uses

One of the most significant reasons to conduct a six-minute walk test is for measuring the response to medical intervention in a patient with moderate to severe heart or lung disease.

Clinicians also use a six-minute walk test:

  • As a one-time measurement of functional status
  • To provide information about a person's ability to perform activities of daily living
  • To evaluate the response of bodily systems to exercise including the heart, lungs, blood, and circulation

Who Should Not Take the Test

You should not take in the six-minute walk if you have any of the following:

  • Unstable angina during the month before the test
  • Heart attack the month before the test
  • Resting heart rate of more than 120 beats per minute
  • Systolic blood pressure of more than 188 mm Hg
  • Diastolic blood pressure of more than 100 mm Hg

Preparation

On the day of the test, be sure to dress in comfortable clothing, particularly shoes designed for walking. Use walking aids if you normally need them, such as a cane or walker.

Eat a light meal before early morning or afternoon tests, but avoid vigorous exercise within two hours before the test.

Reasons for Stopping

Your technician should stop the test if you experience any of the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Intolerable dyspnea
  • Leg cramps
  • Staggering
  • Excessive sweating
  • If you become pale or ashen in appearance

Helpful Tips

During the six-minute walk test, you will be permitted to slow down, stop and rest as needed. You can lean against the wall when you're resting but should remain standing.

If you do stop to rest, keep in mind the timer will not stop when you do and you should start up again when you are ready. Your technician will be watching you carefully, periodically reporting how many minutes have elapsed.

Advise your technician of any concerns, both before and during the test. 

What Happens Afterward

Most six-minute walk tests will be done twice: once before and once after therapeutic intervention.

One of the goals of medical intervention for COPD is for you to be able to walk further during the second test. While the six-minute walk test is a useful tool for measuring functional capacity of many people, the test should be performed with proper medical supervision.

Source:

Enfield, K. et al "Six-Minute Walk Distance in Patients With COPDJournal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention March 2011

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