There are few things more difficult, stressful and depressing during the school semester as midterms. Usually more comprehensive in scope than normal exams, they are dreaded by students wherever they take place. For many of us, midterms are right around the corner, and the cycles of panicking, staying up late and cramming at the last minute are all too familiar to us. Even though we know they take a heavy toll on our bodies and minds and try our best to avoid them, we end up submitting ourselves to them.

We justify this by saying that it will pay off in the long run and that it is worth it. Many of us are aware of the health problems associated with a sedentary lifestyle, and at first thought, one would think such problems are limited only to lazy, undisciplined people who have no true aspirations for the future. However, a sedentary lifestyle also includes those who do very little physical activity, and that includes students who pour all of their attention and focus into their studies and work – far from the typical stereotype of a lazy, unmotivated person. On the contrary, said students could possibly be the ones heralded as bringing about massive changes in the field that they intend to work in. Everyone knows at least one person in their classes that just seems to be extremely intelligent and has excellent grades, but does not do much, if any, physical activity. Their dedication, though admirable, brings up a particular question: How much of your health is worth the success that you will potentially achieve?

There are countless studies that have illustrated a strong correlation between lack of physical activity and an increased disposition to serious health problems later in life. Sedentary lifestyles usually refer to lack of physical activity, and this is especially true for those who sit for long periods, including those who spend hours staring at the computer or reading books. Such health problems include high blood pressure, heart illnesses, diabetes, depression, and other cardiovascular problems.

As I asked before, are such health problems, which are also costing the nation billions of dollars in health-care and lost time, truly worth such a big sacrifice from our lives? They shouldn't be. We may be young, but it won't be long before we find our health slowly deteriorating. For those of us over the age of 20, our overall peak body condition slowly falls – physical, health, and mental benchmarks – and our sedentary lifestyles, whether they be video games or long hours of studying, are killing us. If you asked each of us if we care about our health, we would say that we do, but our actions don't support that at all. Maybe it's because we haven't felt the actual consequences and the diseases that result, and so we don't give much priority to stressing physical condition over success through studying.

I know that we study hard in order to achieve success in the future careers that we want to enter, and that is a great ideal in its own right. However, we must also remind ourselves to not be too self-centered, and remember that our choices don't just affect our own bodies, or the people in this time period – they affect our future children, and thus the generations after us. Thanks to the field of epigenetics, we've found that our choices can, and do, affect the lives and genes of our future offspring. By living a sedentary lifestyle, you give your children a predisposition to debilitating diseases that would make their lives harder for them. Would you really call this true success? The various unhealthy foods that we eat don't help us out either. If we want to truly get what we put into our work and studies, we need to find a balanced lifestyle – one that not only guarantees health benefits for us, but also helps builds a good health foundations for our children and the next generation. That is what I would call true success, and a goal worth the effort.

— Jan Urbano is a junior in biological sciences. He can be reached at jurbano@utk.edu.