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Journal of Sport and Health Science



The 6-minute walking distance (6MWD) is an excellent measure of both functional endurance and health. The primary aim of this study was to estimate temporal trends in 6MWD for older Japanese adults between 1998 and 2017; the secondary aim was to estimate concurrent trends in body size (i.e., height and mass) and self-reported participation in exercise/sport.


Adults aged 65–79 years were included. Annual nationally representative 6MWD data (n = 103,505) for the entire period were obtained from the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. Temporal trends in means (and relative frequencies) were estimated at the gender–age level by best-fitting sample-weighted linear/polynomial regression models, with national trends estimated by a post-stratified population-weighting procedure. Temporal trends in distributional variability were estimated as the ratio of coefficients of variation.


Between 1998 and 2017 there was a steady, moderate improvement in mean 6MWD (absolute = 45 m (95% confidence interval (CI): 43–47); percent = 8.0% (95%CI: 7.6–8.4); effect size = 0.51 (95%CI: 0.48–0.54)). Gender- and age-related temporal differences in means were negligible. Variability in 6MWD declined substantially (ratio of coefficients of variation = 0.89, 95%CI: 0.87–0.92), with declines larger for women compared to men, and for 75–79-year-olds compared to 65–74-year-olds. Correspondingly, there were moderate and negligible increases in mean height and mass, respectively, and negligible increases in the percentage who participated in exercise/sport at least 3 days per week and at least 30 min per session.


There has been a steady, moderate improvement in mean 6MWD for older Japanese adults since 1998, which is suggestive of corresponding improvements in both functional endurance and health. The substantial decline in variability indicates that the temporal improvement in mean 6MWD was not uniform across the distribution. Trends in 6MWD are probably influenced by corresponding trends in body size and/or participation in exercise/sport.