Physical activity and health information was collected from almost 4,000 participants in the Indian Migration Study.
The study found that 68.3 per cent of people in rural areas cycled and 11.9 percent walked to their workplace, compared with 15.9 percent who cycled, and 12.5 percent who walked in urban areas.
However, 50 percent of people who travelled to work by private transport and 38 percent who took public transport were overweight, compared with only 25 percent of people who walked or cycled to work.
The study found similar patterns for rates of high blood pressure and diabetes.
Dr Christopher Millett, of the School of Public Health at Imperial and the Public Health Foundation of India, who led the study, said that people can get the exercise they need by building physical activity into their travel to work, so they don''t need to make extra time for the gym.
The study has been published in PLOS Medicine.