I'm on a mission to get emotionally fit using the power of exercise this New Year.
Since my teens, I've been battling anxiety, depression, a personality disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which can make day-to-day life hard to manage.
A person with OCD experiences obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours while someone with a personality disorder thinks, feels, behaves or relates to others very differently from the average person. Like anxiety and depression, experts believe both OCD and personality disorders can be partly managed through regular exercise.
That's why I've tried my hand at a group fitness class at AK Active in Watkins Lane, Lostock Hall.
Leyland personal trainer Kimberley Badat, who runs AK Active with her husband Adam, said: "Most of our members suffer with mental health issues. Fortunately, it's now not as much of a taboo subject anymore!
"Our motto is, 'Health, confidence, fitness' and we truly believe you can't get fit until you're healthy, both body and mind."
There are many ways that exercise can help us emotionally, according to the experts. It can give you more energy, help you sleep better and releases a hormone call cortisol which can help us regulate stress. And then there's the sense of achievement that boosts self-esteem after meeting your goals.
Kimberley has seen this transformation over and over as her clients become more confident and willing to do things that scare them.
"Just the other day a member who suffers with anxiety and depression took her first driving lesson, after years of not being confident enough to drive. Her husband had to bring her to sessions and after a session she told me she was going to call a driving instructor," she added.
"Now that's the most amazing feeling in the world. Not only are we changing bodies, we are changing minds, giving confidence!"
Exercising seems like a silver bullet in the fight against mental illness. But it's not so simple. For those who lead a busy lifestyle, staying fit can often find itself at the bottom of a to-do list.
One possible solution is short and intensive training, like the metafit class I tried at AK Active. Metafit sessions comprise 30-minute high-intensity interval training designed to boost your metabolism during periods of rest.
"Short, intensive training works best for our members as we don't want to impact their day too much," Kimberley added.
"Our group sessions are above and beyond what we wanted them to be. From beginners to advanced, each members help and support each other from the word 'go'. The hardest part is walking in the door.
"AK is the least judgement place out there! We help change lifestyle, not just fitness!"
That element of support is another reason I'm considering forgoing the gym in favour of exercising in a group, which seems to not only offer a potent weapon for fighting emotional distress, but the shield too. That's because a group can offer a place in a community that helps encourage and motivate you to reach your goals.
I was buzzing after the metafit session, not only because of the pain-relieving endorphins coursing through my brain but also because of the joy of meeting new people in a supportive and friendly environment.
Personally, there's nothing quite as powerful in the battle against depression than making positive connections with people and feeling part of a big family. Plus, the group session was a lot more fun than knackering myself out at the gym on my own.
Kimberley said: "Members being part of a like-minded community means they can be themselves and also be an inspiration for the next person who walks through the door."
As a trainer, Kimberley is warm and welcoming, offering a bucket load of encouragement to help keep you motivated, and I felt such a boost of self-esteem when the rest of the members clapped for me at the end of the session. It was lovely!
In the past, my OCD and personality disorder have led me to diet and exercise obsessively. That's a worry for me when hitting the gym. Left to my own devices, I could easily see myself spiralling into a chaotic pattern of overdoing it then shaming myself for not doing enough.
So perhaps being part of a group could help me tame that obsessive streak and laugh at myself when I make mistakes while also learning to correct them with the help of both an instructor and other members.
It's clear that friendships have been formed at AK Active and I imagine seeing your mates smash their targets and achieve the seemingly impossible is not only inspiring but a joy in itself.