Think exercise, and the thought of the treadmill immediately comes to mind. Yes, such is the clout and ubiquity of this machine that lets you walk/run while staying in the same place, that any mention of physical activity is almost immediately linked to huffing and puffing on the conveyer belt.
But as sturdy and effective as it is in facilitating weight loss and overall cardiovascular fitness, working on a treadmill can get boring and monotonous over time, especially for those who find repetitive regimes off-putting.
To add to its humdrum reputation, the treadmill, which some call the grandfather of the gym, was also once used as a punishment mechanism for those sentenced to hard labour in prisons. (Are you intimidated yet?)
But before you scram and jettison your pursuit for fitness forever, who says you have to be machine-bound to stay in shape? Dance aerobics for one, makes a cool alternative for those who want to cut the fat without cutting out the fun. It also makes for some visually pleasing aesthetics, especially in classes that combine rhythmic dance-like movements with stretching and strength-training routines that aren't just effective in helping you stay lean, but also bound to impress your family and friends when you pick up a killer dance move or two.
Just ask super-fit 40-year-old Eng Hooi Koon, who has lost 10kgs from regular sessions of dance aerobics. Eng, a Penang native who now resides in Kuala Lumpur, says dancing five times a week has helped her shed the excess weight and maintain her sculpted 53kg frame. She supplements her rigorous routine with Pilates and resistance training, which she carries out with various weight machines and dumbbells about three times a week.
Today, Eng has a figure that would put women half her age to shame, but she says it was her burgeoning waistline that first got her to start hitting the gym.
"I have always been active, but as you grow older, it gets harder to maintain your weight. I was in my mid-30s when I started to notice the weight gain, and I figured I needed to do something about it," shares Eng, who joined the gym in June 2007.
Now a regular fixture at Celebrity Fitness in Mid Valley Megamall, Eng, a full-time piano teacher, says she began seeing results just a few months afterwards. "I hit a plateau for a while after that, but last year, I lost another three kilos, so my total weight loss over the years actually amounted to 10 kilos," she enthuses.
"Now, I dance every day except for Wednesdays and Saturdays," she says.
Meanwhile, resistance training has helped her build muscles, especially her six-pack abs.
"I can't wear any of my old clothes anymore, especially my pants. They've gotten so loose."
Eng, whose honed physique had earned her a spot on the gym's brochures and promotional materials early this year, credits her hot new body to some of her favourite dance classes, which include freestyle dancing and hip hop.
"For a super cardio workout, it has got to be Zumba," says Eng of the class, which is a zesty mix of aerobics, and hip hop, soca, samba and salda dances. "You really sweat with it."
When she isn't sweating it out, Eng enjoys shaking her hips at belly dance classes. "It's not just about shaking or rolling your belly, there are actual techniques to squeeze your inner muscles, and it helps to tone your belly," she says.
On top of that, she is also a staunch follower of the gym's Dance N' Attitude (DNA) classes, a dance concept that is fully choreographed by, and exclusive to, Celebrity Fitness.
The high-energy DNA dances include DNA Flavour (a combination of salsa, mambo, tango and cha cha dances), DNA Insanity (a mix of freestyle and modern pop-style dances), DNA Raw (which includes hip hop dances like turf and krumping), and DNA Seduce (a sexy blend of jazz and street dances with a hint of burlesque).
"I can dance for two, three hours, but I can't stay on the treadmill for more than half an hour," Eng exclaims with a laugh. "So when my favourite instructors are not around, I'll be like: 'Oh no! Now I have to see the treadmill!'"
Far from being just a routine, Eng says that dancing has helped her deal with a painful divorce and a subsequent break-up.
"Dancing is my saviour," she tells this writer unflinchingly. "I went through a really rough patch in 2008 when I got divorced. It was very, very hard for me, and dancing was the only thing I could focus on.
"There were days when I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. But you do wake up, and the only way I could continue with my day was to go to the gym and join the dance classes.
"When I'm dancing, I forget all my stress, all my unhappiness, everything... I soon found myself smiling, even on days when I felt sad. That's how I coped with life every single day for about six months."
Her perseverance and consistency did not only help her take her mind off things, it also helped her make many friends in dance class. "We are very much a close-knit community, and they are like my second family now," she says.
"If you notice, dancers are a bunch of happy people because dancing makes us happy, so it's fun to hang out with fellow dancers and instructors alike."
For Eng, the best part about working out is being able to eat whatever she wants. "I hate dieting. Once you work out, you gain more muscle mass (which helps you burn more fat), so you can actually eat more. I still eat chocolates, and I have rice with everything."
Not surprisingly, Eng has no qualms about showing off her body in skimpy gym attire. "Well, I worked hard for it," she says cheekily.
She has no problems getting attention from the opposite sex either. "Quite a number of guys have approached me at the gym, especially when I go in the evening," she shares candidly.
"Some tried to talk to me by trying to show me how to use certain machines, while others have came up to me and said things like 'you're sexy' and I would tell them, 'and I know it!'" she recalls with a loud laugh.
"I always attract the foreigners. I think maybe Malaysians are just too shy, whereas I'm extroverted and outspoken."
Cheesy pickup lines haven't been all bad, as Eng reveals she has been going on dates with a fellow gym-goer. "But we're still at the early stage. It's nothing serious," she says.
As for how long she plans to keep up her fitness regiment, she quips: "For as long as I can, and am able to. It's good for overall health.
"Plus, once you get to your ideal weight and you think of all the hard work you've put in, you wouldn't want to just let it go."