Last week, New York City joined the growing list of major U.S. cities with bike share programs, but what do the residents of Gotham city stand to gain in the terms of health benefits? While the program's effects will take time to measure in the U.S., developing nations like India hint at its potential benefits, given bike culture is already woven into their urban and rural environments.

A new study, published in PLoS Medicine, shows Indian factory workers who bike or walk to work are less likely to be overweight or obese. The findings also suggest that rapid urbanization might be shifting commuters towards private transportation, which could raise obesity rates in cities.

Researchers from the UK and India surveyed the commuting habits of 4,000 people living in northern, central, and southern India. Subjects dwelled either within the urban centers or rural localities within each region.

People who drove or used a private cars to commute were twice as likely to be overweight, have high blood pressure, or be diabetic as those who use active transport — biking or walking. Public transportation users had cardiovascular risks about halfway in between these two groups.

The optimal daily travel time with regards to cardiovascular benefit was 30 minutes.

The study also highlights the shift in health risks connected with urban migration, as subjects who moved to cities had worse health outcomes than their siblings who remained in rural area. There was dramatic 4-fold difference — 68 versus 16 percent — in the proportion of urbanites who walked or biked compared to rural residents.

"Efforts to increase active travel in urban areas and halt declines in rural areas should be integral to strategies to maintain healthy weight and prevent [non-communicable diseases] in India," the authors write, led by Dr. Christopher Millett from Imperial College London.

"This should include greater investment in public transport and improving the safety and convenience of bicycling and walking in Indian towns and cities."

For an example of what could happen if India doesn't incorporate "healthy" infrastructure into its future plans, they should look to the U.S. The development of mass transit highways in the 1950s led to sprawling cities and a preference for high-speed motor vehicles. This trend made active modes of transport unfeasible and perilous in most cities and suburbs.

The U.S. and other developed countries with sky-rocketing rates of obesity and diabetes are now starting large initiatives to reinstate physical modes of transportation. A separate UK study estimates the National Health Service could save nearly 17 billion euros in medical costs over the next 20 years if its upward trends in urban cycling and walking continue.

"Motor vehicle use is already declining in some high-income countries, including the U.S.," writes Dr. Kavi Bhalla in a commentary that accompanied this study. Bhalla is a public health and injury specialist at Johns Hopkins University

Bhalla continued: "Promoting such policies that reverse growth of private motor vehicles and encourage active travel is critical to ensuring that we leave the next generation with a livable planet."

Sources: Millett C, Agrawal S, Sullivan R, Vaz M, Kurpad A, et al. Associations between Active Travel to Work and Overweight, Hypertension, and Diabetes in India: A Cross-Sectional Study. PLoS Medicine. 2013.

Bhalla K. The Health Effects of Motorization. PLoS Medicine. 2013.