The six minute walking distance (6MWD) test is a commonly used test to estimate functional exercise capacity in patients with chronic diseases including chronic obstructive lung disease. Surprisingly, no attempt has been made to establish normal values for the 6MWD. The aim of this study, therefore, was to evaluate the 6MWD in healthy elderly volunteers and to evaluate its determining factors. Fifty-one healthy subjects aged 50-85 yrs volunteered to participate in the trial. All subjects were free of diseases that could interfere with performance in a walking test. Tests were performed in a quiet 50-m long hospital corridor. Patients were encouraged every 30 s to continue walking as quickly as possible. Walking distance averaged 631+/-93 m and was 84 m greater in the male compared to female subjects (p<0.001). The 6MWD showed significant correlations with age (r=-0.51, p<0.01) and height (r=0.54, p<0.01). Stepwise multiple regression analysis showed that age, height, sex and weight were independent contributors to the 6MWD in healthy subjects, thus explaining 66% of the variability. It is concluded that the six minute walking distance can be predicted adequately using a clinically useful model in healthy elderly subjects. Its variability is explained largely by age, sex, height and weight. Results of the six minute walking distance may be interpreted more adequately if expressed as a percentage of the predicted value.