The year-long campaign was launched in the national, regional and medical press yesterday to coincide with Mental Health Action Week, which ends on Saturday (2 April).
The charity used the media to alert thousands of GPs to a research report that contains case studies showing how a supervised exercise programme on prescription can be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild or moderate depression.
In the report, the charity calls on the Government to invest £20m in promoting exercise referral as a treatment for depression in the UK. It says the figure represents about 5 per cent of annual spending on antidepressants in England.
Up and Running? research shows that only 5 per cent of a poll of 200 GPs prescribe exercise as one of their three most common treatments for the illness. Ninety-two per cent prescribe antidepressants as one of their top three responses.
Meanwhile, last year's National Institute of Clinical Excellence guidelines recommended the use of exercise to ease the illness.
The report claims that GPs are selecting antidepressants first to treat mild depression because they perceive there is a lack of alternatives.
Some 78 per cent of GPs surveyed have prescribed an antidepressant in the past three years despite believing that an alternative treatment might have been more appropriate, and 66 per cent have done so because a suitable alternative was not available.
Only 41 per cent of GPs polled believe exercise therapy to be a "very or quite effective" treatment for depression. But the foundation believes many GPs are misguided and hopes its campaign will persuade them that exercise is a viable and healthy alternative treatment.
The report says that research carried out into alternative treatments for mental illness may not reach GPs - and if it does, it will not match the marketing power of pharmaceutical companies and will consequently have less effect on GPs' views. In support of its claims, the report points out that only 42 per cent of GPs reported having access to exercise referral schemes.
Booklets will be sent to GPs and people with mental health problems in May to make them aware of the effectiveness of exercise treatments, and 2,000 posters were sent to GP surgeries this week.