Six-minute Walk Test

Last updated Jan. 13, 2022, by Marisa Wexler, MS

✅ Fact-checked by José Lopes, PhD

The six-minute walk test, sometimes abbreviated 6MWT, is a measure of how far a patient can walk in six minutes on a hard, flat surface.

The 6MWT was originally developed as a way to assess exercise tolerance in patients with heart failure and respiratory disease. The test has become widely used to measure exercise capacity in other groups of people who are able to walk, including some of those with muscular dystrophy.

Considered predictive of disease progression, distances in the 6MWT typically will increase over time in early life, then will plateau and eventually start to decrease as muscular dystrophy progresses.

The 6MWT also is often used in clinical trials to measure changes in physical functioning.

How the 6MWT is performed

The test, start to finish, normally takes less than 15 minutes. A flat 30-meter (about 33 yards) track is recommended. The patient will walk to the end of the track and return, doing as many laps as they can during the six-minute time frame.

During the test, the patient may wear a monitor (usually a small device on a fingertip) to measure oxygen levels in the blood. The clinician running the test will also usually measure the patient’s blood pressure at the start and end of the test. High blood pressure is a contraindication for this test.

If the patient normally walks with a cane or other support device, they may use it during the test. Likewise, supplemental oxygen may be used during the test if the patient normally uses it in daily life. If the patient needs to stop and rest during the test, chairs will be available.

It is not necessary for the patient to walk as quickly as they can. In fact, the test results are more reliable if patients walk continuously rather than walking quickly and exhausting themselves, then being unable to complete the test.

Patients normally perform better on the test the second time they take it. Thus, the test is generally repeated several days apart to get an accurate measurement.

Other information

The 6MWT should not be performed in individuals who are at high risk of heart-related health problems; specific criteria include a resting heart rate of more than 120, a systolic blood pressure of more than 180 mm Hg (millimeter of mercury), and a diastolic blood pressure of more than 100 mm Hg.

The test should be done in a setting where prompt medical care can be given if it is needed. Testing should stop immediately if patients show signs such as unusual shortness of breath, chest pain, excessive sweating, leg cramps, staggering, or a pale and ashen appearance.


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