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Indonesians Walk Less Than Anyone Else In the World. This Is Why

What happens when you try to walk 10,000 steps a day in a city built for cars and motorbikes? Nothing good.
Photo by VICE Staff

It took some researchers from Stanford University to prove what we've feared all along: Indonesians hate to walk. The peer reviewed study looked at smartphone data from 46 different countries to see who walks the most. Indonesia came in dead last.

Indonesians walk, on average, 3,513 steps per day. Hongkongers were on the other end of spectrum, with 6,880 steps per day. That's a huge difference, and also that average is A LOT more steps than I usually walk. I opened the Health app on my phone and it's a mess. Some days I walk 8,000 steps, but other days I am racking up less than 500. I guess those days I never left my kost.


How bad is it to be this inactive? One study says that "physical passivity"—i.e. laziness—is responsible for one out of every 10 deaths. That makes sitting on your ass watching Netflix all day about as dangerous as obesity or smoking. It's not the lack of activity itself that can kill you, it's the higher instances of heart disease, diabetes, and breast cancer that do. A study conducted by experts at Harvard University found that inactivity was linked to as many as 5.3 million deaths worldwide a year.

"The short-term consequences won't be as obvious right now," Dr. Marius Widjajarta, the director of Yayasan Pemberdayaan Konsumen Kesehatan Indonesia (YPKKI), told VICE. "But as you get older, these things will accumulate. To put it simply, carbohydrates consumed need to be burned off as energy. When you don't move, the carbs pile up and cause complications."

So, to start, what's the minimum amount of time you need to walk to be healthy? About 30 minutes per day, Marius said.

"Walking is the cheapest, easiest exercise," Marius said. "So there's no excuse not to walk. But walking alone is not enough. A healthy lifestyle consists of exercise, sleep, and a healthy diet."

OK, so everyone should walk, but walking alone is not enough. Well, we here at VICE's Indonesia office decided to stage a little experiment. One of us (me) needs to walk the 10,000 steps—a lot of people say is the minimum threshold for being "healthy." (Fun fact: Those 10,000 steps aren't based on science at all. It's just a translation of the Japanese word for a pedometer: "manpo-kei" (万歩計).)


The other one (Adi) would walk the least amount of steps possible. In the end we'll see who had a tougher day.

Arzia's 10,296 step day

Time: 09:33
Location: Mampang (home)
Steps so far: 82

Let's get this out of the way first: I actually love walking and I have the chunky calves to prove it. People can say whatever they want—papaya calves, talas Bogor calves—I don't care. I'm going to keep walking. But that being said, 10,000 steps still seems like an accomplishment. Even on my most-active days, my phone tells me that I only walked about 8,000 steps (remember when your phone didn't know stuff like this?).

I've been walking less and less since I started working full-time in an office. Back in university, I was living in Bandung—a city where you could walk anywhere. Jakarta? Not so much. But I am out to prove that 10,000 steps is possible, starting with a walk to work.

Time: 09:43
Location: A bridge somewhere in Mampang
Steps so far: 891

Walking really boosts my mood. I heard that running triggers the release of endorphins and can make you feel happy, but I had no idea that just walking would feel this good.

And it's a good thing I am feeling positive because what's in front of me is, honestly, the worst part of my daily commute. Jl Mampang Prapatang Raya is a mess. It's the kind of street that makes you want to turn around and go back to bed. Picture this: bumper-to-bumper traffic, hundreds of beeping motorbikes, thick black exhaust, and some of the worst "sidewalks" in Jakarta.


But my good mood is holding out so far. When someone cut me off, driving their motorbike right up on the sidewalk in front of me, I didn't scream at him. And this good mood seems to be paying off. When I wandered into the street, a security guy working the front gate of an office building on Mampang ran out to help me cross. I was so engrossed in what was coming out of my headphones ("Car Wash," I know, whatever) that I didn't see the car ten centimeters from hitting me. Thanks Mr. Security Guy!

Time: 09:53
Location: Still in Mampang
Steps so far: 1,447

So here's my personal observations so far: It's not a bad day to walk around. The weather isn't too hot. Sure, I'm sweaty, but all that sweat means I don't need to wear any makeup today.

But one thing becomes immediately clear: Jakarta isn't made for walking. The sidewalks—if you could call them that—are too narrow. And motorbikes are constantly cutting in and driving down the sidewalk to avoid traffic. If you're not careful you can fall into the gutter or run into an electrical pole trying to avoid the motorbikes. And while I am on the electrical poles, there are like six of them on every corner. It's a real pain, but maybe I could just dance around them like they do in Bollywood movies.

Time: 09:58
Location: Jl Kapten Tendean
Steps so far: 1,783

It's getting harder and harder to walk. The sidewalks are a mess. The cement tiles that cover the gutter are jutting out in all directions so walking suddenly feels a bit more like hiking. And you need to pay attention. In Hong Kong you could walk down a sidewalk and feel secure in the fact that the next step is more sidewalk. Here you always need to keep an eye out because the next step might just be a drop into an open gutter. I don't even want to imagine what's down there.


Then there's the kaki lima that use the sidewalk as a cafe, the dust from the constant construction, and the never-ending honking. I'm going to petition the dictionary to change the definition of "chaos" to a photo of what I'm seeing right now.

Time: 10:14
Location: Jl Kapten Tendean
Steps so far: 3,168

I'm regretting taking a shower this morning. What's the point. My shirt is soaked. My hair is matted to my forehead. I'm sure I smell like a street cat.

But at least I have my headphones. I'm blasting an all-disco playlist to shut out the catcalls from men driving by on motorbikes. No. I don't want to get on your bike. No. I am not looking for a man, especially one who thinks it's cool to shout at women on the street.

Thankfully I always look sort of bitchy, so I don't even need to say "excuse me" when I cut in front of people. Fuck them. They are just intruders in my new little world. It's just me, my sneakers, and the sounds of KC & the Sunshine Band. "That's the way, uh-huh, uh-huh / I like it, uh-huh, uh-huh."

Time: 10:24
Location: Jl Wolter Monginsidi
Steps so far: 3,751

Shit! I was so happy to be off Tendean that I didn't notice the weird speed bump thing sitting on the sidewalk. I tripped right over it and nearly fell down in front of everyone. Lesson learned. Never let your guard down on these streets.

Time: 10:29
Location: VICE Indonesia's office
Steps so far: 4,258

I'm finally here! Now when people ask where I live, I can honestly say, oh not far, walking distance from work. "Oh, Senopati? So fancy." In the end, it took me less than an hour. I would do this every day if someone could build me a shower at work. But then there's the sad realization that I'm not even halfway to 10,000 steps. I sit down to write a bit and think about where I am going to walk next.


Adi is sitting next to me and I ask to see his steps. Twenty-seven. Twenty-seven steps. It took me more than that to just get out of my house! (More on this later)

Time: 13:50
Location: The office
Steps so far: 4,568

It's been hours and I've only walked like 300 more steps. See how easy it is to be lazy here? On a normal day I would catch an ojek to work, then spend all day sitting around. The office just isn't big enough to rack up enough steps to be healthy.

But now it's lunch time—prime time for walking some more. I pick a place out in Blok S and ask a photographer to accompany me so we can grab some photos for this story.

Time: 14:49
Location: Blok S
Steps so far: 5,757

So I guess Blok S wasn't as far away as I thought it was. I keep walking and find myself in SCBD staring at salmon sushi in Grand Lucky. The air is cool and the aisles are nice and long. Too bad the food is so expensive.

Time: 14:56
Location: Senopati
Steps so far: 6,229

Senopati is famous for its cafes. I walked over to Jalan Suryo, where someone told me the sidewalks were nicer. Turns out they were wrong. Most of the sidewalks are being used as parking spaces for cars. Jakarta must be full of rich people. Everyone, it seems can afford a new car.

Time: 15:01
Location: Senopati
Steps so far: 6,690

It's really hard to cross the road here. No one wants to wait to give me a turn. Maybe they aren't used to seeing pedestrians anymore. We are pretty rare these days. I feel my faith in humanity slowly slipping away.


Then two motorbikes stopped to let me go. Faith in humanity restored! Oh, hold on, what's that? A car full of men shouting catcalls out the widow as they drive by? Faith gone again.

Time: 15:18
Location: SCBD
Steps so far: 8,127

SCBD is the best place to walk. The sidewalks are wide, clean, and actually sidewalks instead of concrete hiding the gutter. Plus there are trees and a lot of stuff to look at it. Walking in SCBD, it's easy to forget you're still in Jakarta. And they didn't even pay me to say that.

Look at these beautiful sidewalks.

Time: 15:23
Location: Grand Lucky
Steps so far: 8,622

I'm back in the supermarket. Why? It's one of the happiest places in Jakarta. Who doesn't like buying food. This is the perfect place to reach my 10,000 step goal.

Time: 15:37
Location: Grand Lucky
Steps so far: 9,246

I left Grand Lucky with two of my favorite things: salmon sashimi and mineral water. But I still haven't reached 10,000 steps. I'm too far from the office now, but I have my MacBook so I'm just going to wander around until I find a cafe to work in.

Time: 15:46
Location: SCBD
Steps so far: 10,104

YES! I made it! I'm absolutely covered in sweat by the time I walk up to Kopitiam. A man walking by looks me up and down and says, "Wow, you walked quite far, huh?" How does he know? Was he following me?

Then I catch a reflection of myself and see how sweaty I am. Yup. I sure did walk far.

Time: 15:50
Location: Kopitiam
Steps so far: 10,296


So it's totally possible to walk 10,000 steps a day in Jakarta. But it's also a real pain in the ass. If the broken sidewalks, traffic, and heat don't get you, the endless catcalls will. We're the least active walkers in the world. Yeah, it's sort of embarrassing. But you know what's worse? Our drivers.

Hopefully Adi had an easier day.

Adi's 128 step day

Time: 08:30
Location: Home
Steps so far: 10

I wake up and get a glass of water, which is only three steps from my bed since my studio apartment is so small. My mornings are all about coffee, cigarettes, and contemplating my life. I sit still for this part of the day.

Then it's shower time. Six more steps.

Time: 09:00
Location: Home
Steps so far: 20

It's time to leave for work. I order a GO-JEK with my phone and take the lift down to the lobby. The ojek driver is already waiting for me outside. I walk over and climb on the back of his bike. My pedometer app reads 20 steps. Calories burned? Zero.

Time: 12:00
Location: The office
Steps so far: 36

I'm king for a day. I got the best chair, and I had my coworker bring me my lunch. I just sit in my chair and type away while chewing on some bread.

When a package arrives for me, I ask someone else to get it. I need to limit those steps. But I still need to smoke, get water, and use the bathroom. So I make someone to push me around in my chair. Let them do the walking. I'm on an important mission.


The only time I actually have to move my feet is when I need to make a phone call on the office line. That's some serious efficiency.

Time: 18:00
Location: The office
Steps so far: 128

Apologies for fast-forwarding time so much, but honestly there isn't all that much to write about sitting around all day. It's just like a normal day, except easier and a bit more ridiculous. I look at my phone and realize it's time to go home. The number of steps? 128. Calories burned? Three.

I'm officially the laziest person in the office.

The lack of movement actually made my body stiff and ache. It's not easy being this lazy. But it's still not enough to make me want to walk 10,000 steps. No thank you. Being healthy just requires too much energy.