Respiratory rehabilitation improves exercise capacity and quality of life in younger patients but is untried in the aged. We aimed to: (a) assess repeatability of the 6-minute walk test, factors affecting it and its relation to quality of life in elderly patients with chronic obstructive airways disease (COAD); (b) assess compliance of such patients with an intensive respiratory rehabilitation protocol; (c) pilot the assessment of the effect of respiratory rehabilitation on the 6-minute walk test in these patients. Seventeen subjects with stable, symptomatic COAD were recruited, 15 (six men), 70-89 (mean 76) years, completed the study. Mean (standard deviation) 1-second forced expiratory volume (FEV1) = 49 (5)% predicted. Six-minute walk tests were repeated single-blind, 2-10 days apart. Quality of life was measured using Guyatt respiratory questionnaire. Patients underwent 12 weeks incremental respiratory rehabilitation (x4/day step-ups, unweighed arm raises, inflating balloons). Baseline 6-minute walk was repeatable and was correlated with the log Guyatt dyspnoea score (r = 0.65, p = 0.006). In multiple regression neither age nor FEV1 predicted walk distance: body mass index, maximal expiratory mouth pressure; calorie intake. Mean (SEM) 6-minute walk distance after-rehabilitation was greater than baseline (p = 0.003). Elderly patients with COAD tolerate intensive respiratory rehabilitation and a controlled, blinded study is needed.