In addition, the researchers also found that physical activity when done as part of work does not have the same effect.
In the study, 40,000 Norwegian participants were asked how often and to what degree they undertook physical activity in their leisure time and during the course of their work.
It was found that those who who were not active during their leisure-time were almost twice as likely to have symptoms of depression compared to the most active individuals.
Dr Samuel Harvey, from the Institute of Psychiatry was lead researcher on the study and said:
“Our study shows that people who engage in regular leisure-time activity of any intensity are less likely to have symptoms of depression. We also found that the context in which activity takes place is vital and that the social benefits associated with exercise, like increased numbers of friends and social support, are more important in understanding how exercise may be linked to improved mental health than any biological markers of fitness. ”
The chief executive of mental health charity Mind, Paul Farmer stressed that lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise have long since been known to impact mental health and in a recent study conducted by the charity, it was found that 90 per cent of participants had increased self esteem after just a short country walk.