BACKGROUND: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a progressive and distressing disease with a trajectory that is often difficult to predict.OBJECTIVE: To determine whether initial 6 min walk distance (6MWD) or change in 6MWD following inpatient pulmonary rehabilitation (PR) predicted survival.METHODS: Patients referred for PR in 2010 were studied in a retrospective chart review. Measures of 6MWD before and following PR were recorded. Initial 6MWD was categorized as ≥250 m, 150 m to 249 m and ≤149 m. Government databases provided survival status up until December 2013 and survival analyses were performed. Initial 6MWD and a minimally important difference (MID) of ≥30 m were used for survival analysis.RESULTS: The cohort consisted of 237 patients (92 men, 145 women) with severe COPD. Mean (± SD) forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) was 0.75±0.36 L, with a mean FEV1/forced vital capacity (FVC) ratio of 0.57±0.16. Overall three-year survival was 58%. Mean survival for the study period as per predefined categories of 6MWD of ≥250 m, 150 m to 249 m and ≤149 m was 42.2, 37.0 and 27.8 months (P<0.001), respectively, with a three-year survival of 81%, 66% and 34% observed, respectively. Overall mean change in 6MWD was 62±57 m, and a minimal improvement of ≥30 m was observed in 72% of patients. In the lowest walking group, early mortality was significantly higher among those who did not achieve minimal improvement. Older age, male sex and shorter initial 6MWD were negative predictors of survival.CONCLUSION: In patients with severe COPD, initial 6MWD was predictive of survival. Overall survival at three years was only 58% and was especially poor (34%) in patients with low (<150 m) initial walk distance.