The Six Minute Walk Test

Senior couple holding hands and walking in park
The 6 Minute Walk Test is a simple way to measure your endurance. Paul Bradbury/Caiaimage/Getty Images

The Six Minute Walk Test (6MWT) is a common outcome measurement tool used in physical therapy to determine your basic exercise endurance and functional fitness. It's simple to perform, and it can help your physical therapist evaluate improvement or decline in your overall functional status during your rehabilitation program.

Performing the Six Minute Walk Test

The Six Minute Walk Test is simple to perform: you must simply walk at a comfortable pace for a total of six minutes.

While walking, you may use your normal assistive device, like a cane or a walker. No person may provide assistance while you're walking, and if you need to rest during the test, you may do so as needed.

The total distance that you walk during the Six Minute Walk Test is your score. If you're unable to complete the six-minute time period, your score becomes the distance walked, and the time is also recorded.

Where Can the 6 Minute Walk Test Be Done?

The Six Minute Walk Test can be administered anywhere. It's often used in hospital physical therapy settings, but it can also be used in an outpatient clinic. The test is often used as a functional outcome measure in cardiac rehabilitation programs. If the test is administered in a hallway, then you must simply walk to the end of it, turn around and then walk back. You'll repeat as necessary during the six-minute test, making sure to measure your total distance.

The Six Minute Walk Test has been found to be a very reliable test when used for many differnt patient populations. In men or women, young and old, the test seems to offer a decent measure of one's endurance.

How Often Should the 6 Minute Walk Test Be Done?

Your physical therapist will likely perform the 6 MWT when you first start physical therapy during the initial evaluation.

A retest may be done at regular intervals or whenever your PT deems it necessary to measure your rehabilitation progress. 

Improvement in your 6 MWT score can help you monitor your own progress in physical therapy, and it can serve as motivation for you to continue working hard in physical therapy.

If your 6 MWT score gets worse over time in physical therapy, do not let it get you down. Use the information to adjust your rehab goals and methods. Perhaps you simply need to make some adjustments in your PT program to see improvement in your score. The bottom line is that you must work with your physical therapist in a therapeutic alliance to achieve the goals set out for you. Sometimes these goals are easily obtainable, and other times, hard work is needed to help get you back on track to your normal functional mobility.

If you're engaged in a physical therapy program to help improve your functional mobility or overall fitness level, you may want to ask your physical therapist to administer the Six Minute Walk Test.

You can use your score to track your progress in therapy, and improvements in your score may help motivate you to continue to improve your overall fitness level.

Source:

Overgaard, JA etal. Interrater Reliability of the 6-Minute Walk Test in Women With Hip Fracture. J Geriatr Phys Ther. 2016 May 20.

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