Ali recently returned to work at the barber shop I frequent in Marine Parade after taking a six-month break.
"Hey, you have put on muscles," I said, noting how his T-shirt was stretched taut by his bulging biceps and wide back.
He used to be slim.
The 27-year-old said with a grin: "Yes, you know the Government gives money to people to exercise? I have been going to a gym in Eunos and have used up almost all the credits."
He was talking about the ActiveSG Account which Singaporeans and permanent residents can sign up for for free to tap $100 in credits that can be spent on pool and gym visits at public facilities plus programmes such as yoga.
Some of my friends and relatives have also enrolled but, unlike Ali, they have actually struggled to fully utilise the credits despite almost a year of membership.
ActiveSG was launched in April last year.
My friend, John, 56, said: "I did go to the pool in Katong a few times but swimming is not really my favourite form of exercise."
He is more into jogging and qigong.
I checked with my relatives and they tell me that they have also hardly used the credits, once the initial enthusiasm waned.
Chong, my brother-in-law, said: "I thought it would be fun to play badminton again - used to do so when I was in school - but it's not always easy to find others to play with you and it's also hard to find a time suitable for everyone in order to make a booking in the CC."
Sport Singapore, which runs the ActiveSG initiative, says close to 715,000 people have registered so far. About three in five members have utilised their credits to book facilities and sign up for programmes, said a spokesman.
The Sengkang swimming pool, Jurong West Sports Centre gym and Clementi Sports Hall are the top draws, the spokesman added.
While there is interest, only 20 per cent of members have used up their credits.
Perhaps it is time to tweak the scheme and enlarge the options that members can use the credits for.
While the scheme should still stick to its intention of getting people to exercise - a crucial goal given that our population is ageing and it is imperative to stay healthy to avoid burdening the country's healthcare facilities and paying potentially hefty bills - a portion, say 25 per cent, of the $100 could be used to buy tickets to watch S-League matches or pay fees to take part in mass participation sports run by private companies like road races and cycling events.
And with the SEA Games slated to kick off in our backyard in June, why not allow the credits to be used to buy tickets to catch the action?
Some sports in the Games are not faring so well in ticket sales so a boost from any expanded use of the ActiveSG credits will help fill up arenas and make the Games more memorable.
Some 790,000 tickets have gone on sale for 18 of the 36 sports, with the rest free for the public to watch.
Popular sports such as football, gymnastics and table tennis will cost $5 to $20.
The SEA Games Organising Committee's executive committee chairman Lim Teck Yin lamented earlier this month that ticket sales for some sports "are still very low and for some sports they are still in the 50 to 80 per cent range".
In a year when we celebrate the nation's 50th birthday, and the country is targeting 50 golds in the biennial meet, our athletes will surely be further motivated if more people turn up to back them.
Perhaps the thrill of watching such sports may motivate the ActiveSG members to try out these activities for themselves - with funding from their own accounts available.
A win-win situation, no?
This article was first published on MONTH DAY, 2015.
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