Prescribing Aerobic Exercise Intensity without a Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test Post Stroke: Utility of the Six-Minute Walk Test
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BACKGROUND: The cardiopulmonary exercise test (CPET) is an established method for determining target exercise training intensity (ventilatory threshold [VAT]) and cardiovascular risk; unfortunately, CPET is not readily accessible to people post stroke. The objective of this study was to determine the utility of the 6-minute walk test (6MWT) as a less resource-intensive alternative to CPET for prescribing exercise intensity to people post stroke with motor impairments. METHODS: Sixty participants (male, 71.7%; 13.5 ± 22.5 [mean ± standard deviation] months post stroke; age 64.5 ± 12.5 years, with a Chedoke-McMaster Stroke Assessment score of 4.9 ± .9 of the leg) underwent 6MWT, CPET, balance, strength, and cognition assessments. RESULTS: 6MWT heart rate (hr) was significantly lower than VAT-hr (92.3 ± 14.8 beats⋅min(-1) versus 99.8 ± 15.7 beats⋅min(-1), respectively, P < .001; correlation r = .7, P < .001). Bland-Altman analysis revealed that the 6MWT underestimated the VAT-hr by 7.7 ± 11.5%. The 95% confidence interval of the mean bias was large (14.8% and -30.3%), reflecting poor agreement, with 71.7% (n = 43) of the participants unable to reach a walking intensity at or above the VAT-hr. Lower oxygen uptake at the VAT (β = .655, P = .004), higher 6MWT-hr (β = 1.07, P = .01), and better balance (β = 1.128, P = .04) were associated with greater utility of the 6MWT for prescribing exercise. CONCLUSIONS: The 6MWT-hr was not interchangeable with the target training VAT-hr determined by CPET. However, in combination with CPET, the 6MWT will indicate when deficits preclude walking alone as the primary exercise modality for optimizing cardiovascular fitness. Future studies to develop a less resource-intensive, multimodal alternative to the CPET for prescribing exercise are needed. A modality that minimizes the effect of stroke deficits, specifically poor balance, should be included.
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