Measurement of exercise capacity is an integral element in assessment of patients with cardiopulmonary disease. The 6-min walk test (6MWT) provides information regarding functional capacity, response to therapy and prognosis across a range of chronic cardiopulmonary conditions. A distance less than 350 m is associated with increased mortality in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic heart failure and pulmonary arterial hypertension. Desaturation during a 6MWT is an important prognostic indicator for patients with interstitial lung disease. The 6MWT is sensitive to commonly used therapies in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease such as pulmonary rehabilitation, oxygen, long-term use of inhaled corticosteroids and lung volume reduction surgery. However, it appears less reliable to detect changes in clinical status associated with medical therapies for heart failure. A change in walking distance of more than 50 m is clinically significant in most disease states. When interpreting the results of a 6MWT, consideration should be given to choice of predictive values and the methods by which the test was carried out.