Zan Gao, PhD

Associate Professor, Physical Activity and Health
Director of Graduate Studies
Contact Information


207 Cooke Hall
1900 University Avenue SE
Minneapolis, 55455


Graduate education faculty

Director, Physical Activity Epidemiology Laboratory

Dr. Zan Gao obtained his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in 2007. He is a faculty at the School of Kinesiology in the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, specializing in physical activity and health. Dr. Gao’s research has primarily focused on promoting health with emerging technology through population-based physical activity interventions. In the past several years, Dr. Gao has given over 229 presentations at various international and national conferences. He has also published 3 books, 28  book chapters and 127 research articles (including over 100 first-/senior-authored) in peer-reviewed journals such as Obesity Review, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport (RQES), and the Journal of Teaching in Physical Education (JTPE). Dr. Gao has been the recipient of several international and national awards, including the 2008 National Association for Kinesiology and Physical Education in Higher Education Hally Beth Poindexter Young Scholar Award, 2009 American Alliance of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (AAHPERD) Mabel Lee Award, 2013 National Association for Sport and Physical Education Curriculum and Instruction Heitmann Young Scholar Award, and 2015 SHAPE America Leroy T. Walker Young Professional Award. Dr. Gao has been the principal investigator of National Institute of Health research grant, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Grant and AAHPERD Seed Grant. He also serves as a reviewer for many journals including, but not limited to RQES, JTPE, the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, and Obesity Review, as the Section Editor for Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, Associate Editor for RQES and Journal of Health and Sports Science, the Editorial Board Member for the JTPE, Journal of Clinical Medicine, Games for Health, and International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, and Editor-in-chief for Column-Research, Teaching, and Media in Kinesiology. He is currently the Fellow of American College of Sports Medicine and the Fellow of AAHPERD Research Consortium. 

Personal Webpage     

Research Interests
Population-based physical activity promotion to prevent chronic diseases 
Application of emerging technology (e.g., active video games, health wearables, virtual reality) interventions to promote health and optimal development  
Psychosocial and behavioral correlates/determinants of health behavior
Children’s motor skill, physical activity, fitness, cognition and academic achievement 
Health and education disparities in underserved populations
Academic appointments

2016 - present

Associate Professor of Physical Activity and Health,  School of Kinesiology, The University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

2012 - 2016

Assistant Professor of Physical Activity and Health,  School of Kinesiology, The University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

2010 -  2012

Assistant Professor of Exercise Science, Texas Tech University, Department of Health, Exercise and Sport Sciences, Lubbock, TX.

2007 -  2010

Assistant Professor of Sports Pedagogy, University of Utah, College of Health, Department of Exercise and Sport Science. Salt Lake City, UT.

Selected Research Grants

  • Gao, Z., French, S.,  & Kunin-Baston, A.S.(2016-2019). Teach Exergaming and Activities on Cognition and Health in Preschoolers. National Institutes of Health (NHLBI-R56). $369,118. Funded. (PI)
  • Sarafoglou, K., Brundage, R., Gao, Z.Gunnar, M, Hodges, J., Lightman, S. (2018-2021). Phase 2a Study of Subcutaneous Hydrocortisone Infusion Pump for the Treatment of Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia. $1,400,136. Funded. (Co-PI) 
  • Seaquist, E., Oz, G., Eberly, L.E., & Gao, Z. (2018-2023). Measurement of Glucose Homeostasis in Human Brain by NMR. National Institutes of Health (2 R01 NS035192-17). $3,686,894. Funded. (Co-PI)  
  • Evans, R., Leininger, B., Bronfort, G., Gao, Z. , ..., Schultz, C. (2017-2022). Mindful Movement for Physical Activity and Wellbeing in Older Adults.  National Institutes of Health (R21/R33). $1,193,955. Funded. (Co-I)  
  • Gao, Z.Lee, H., & Zhang, R. (2016-2018). Improving Breast Cancer Survivors’ Disease Management Outcomes through Smartphone Apps and Online Health Community. University of Minnesota. $47,620. (PI)
  • Gao, Z., French, S., Hannan, P., & Kunin-Baston, A.S.(2015-2016). Effects of Home-based Exergaming Program on Preschool Children’s Physical Activity and Adiposity. University of Minnesota, Obesity Prevention Center. $50,000. (PI)  
  • Gao, Z. (2014-2015).Impact of Exergaming on Urban Children’s Physical and Psychosocial Health. University of Minnesota, Office of Vice President for Research Grant-In-Aid. Funded. $32,109. (PI)
  • Steinberger, J., Dengel, D., Gao, Z., Gilchrist, L., Hodges, J., Sadak, K. (2014-2015). Effect of a Home-based Fitness Intervention on Cardiometabolic Risk Profile in Pediatric Patients with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). University of Minnesota, Academic Health Center’s Small Grants Program. Funded. $30,000. (Co-I)
  • Gao, Z. (2013-2014). Impact of Exergaming on Children’s Cardiovascular Fitness and Classroom Behaviors. University of Minnesota, College of Education and Human Development. Funded. $5,000. (PI)
  • Gao, Z., Stodden, D., & Feng, D. (2012-2016). Impact of Interactive Video Games on Underserved Children’s Health. National Institutes of Health PA-10-070 Academic Research Enhancement Award (Parent R15: 1R15HD071514-01A1). Priority Score: 20. Funded. $432,225. (PI).
  • Gao, Z., & Valdez, V.E. (2009-2011). Impact of Physical Activities on Urban Latino Children’s Physical Fitness, Self-esteem and Academic Performance. The University of Utah Interdisciplinary Seed Grant. $12,000. Funded. (PI).
  • Gao, Z., Montenegro, R., Valdez, V.E., Hannon, J.C., & Xiang, P. (2009-2011). Integrating Dance Dance Revolution to Promote Urban Latino School Children’s Physical Health and Academic Achievement: Project GAME. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Salud America! $74,041. Funded. (PI).
  • Gao, Z., Hannon, J.C., & Newton, M. (2010-2013). The Impact of Classroom-based Physical Activity (Take 10!) on Underserved Children’s Exercise Motivation and Physical Health. The University of Utah College of Health Research and Creative Grant Competition. $5,000. Funded. (PI).
  • Huang, C., & Gao, Z. (2009-2010). Effect of Aerobic Exercises on Children’s Exercise Determinants and Behaviors. The University of Utah PEAK Academy Graduate Research Award. $1,500. Funded. (Faculty Mentor).
  • Newton, M., Hannon, J. C., Gao, Z., & Paisley, K. (2009-2010). Predictors of Sportpersonship and Motivation in High School Athletes. The University of Utah College of Health Research and Creative Grant Competition. $6,200. Funded. (Co-I).
  • Richardson, G., Summerhays, J., Hannon, J.C., Compton, D., Ellis, G., & Gao, Z. (2009-2011). Tipping the Scales towards a Healthier Population: The Utah Blueprint to Promote Healthy Weight for Children, Youth, and Adults. The Utah Partnership for Health Weight. $200,000. Funded. (Co-I).
  • Gao, Z., Hannon, J.C., & Newton, M. (2008-2010). The Effects of Goal Setting on Overweight Students’ Physical Activity Levels and Performance in the Dance Dance Revolution Program. The University of Utah College of Health Research and Creative Grant Competition. $7,500. Funded. (PI).
  • Gao, Z., Hannon, J.C., & Newton, M. (2008-2010). The Effects of Curricular Activity on Students’ Situational Motivation and Physical Activity Levels in Physical Education. AAHPERD Research Consortium Seed Grants. $5,000. Funded. (PI).
Selected Awards and Honors
  • 2015 - SHAPE America Leroy T. Walker Young Professional Award
  • 2013 - Fellow, American College of Sports Medicine
  • 2013 - National Association for Sport and Physical Education Curriculum and Instruction Heitmann Young Scholar Award
  • 2011 - Fellow, American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, R
Ph.D., 2003-2007, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, U.S.
Major: Kinesiology
Minor: Experimental Statistics

M.Ed., 1996-1999, Beijing Sport University, Beijing, China
Major: Physical Education Teaching and Coaching

B.Ed., 1992-1996, Hunan Normal University, Changsha, China
Major: Physical Education
Curriculum Vitae [PDF]
Selected Publications
  1. Gao, Z., Lee, J., Zeng, N., Pope, Z.C., Zhang, Y., & Li, X. (2019). Home-based exergaming on preschoolers’ energy expenditure, cardiovascular fitness, body mass index and cognition: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 8, 1745. (impact factor: 5.68)

    Gao, Z., & Wang, R. (2019). Children’s motor skills competence, physical activity, fitness, and health promotion. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 8(2), 114 -121. (impact factor: 3.64)

    Gao, Z., Zeng, N., Pope, Z., Wang, R., Yu, F. (2019). Effects of exergaming on motor skill competence, perceived competence, and physical activity in preschool children. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 8(2), 106 -113. (impact factor: 3.64)

    Pope, Z., Lee, J., Zeng, N., Lee, H., & Gao, Z. (2019). Feasibility of smartphone application and social media intervention on breast cancer survivors’ health outcomes. Translational Behavioral Medicine, 9(1), 11-22. (impact factor: 2.989)

    Gao, Z. (2018). Trajectory changes of young children’s objectively determined of physical activity, sedentary behavior, and body mass index. Childhood Obesity, 14(4), 259-264. (Impact factor: 2.53)

    Ye, S., Lee, J., Stodden, D., Gao, Z. (2018). Impact of exergaming on children’s motor skill performance and health-related fitness: A quasi-experimental study. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 7, 261. (impact factor: 5.58)

    Gao, Z.Pope, Z., Lee, J., Stodden, D., Roncesvalles, N., Pasco, D., Huang, C., & Feng, D. (2017). Impact of exergaming on young children’s school day energy expenditure and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity levels. Journal of Sport and Health Science, 6, 11-16. (impact factor: 2.59)

    Zeng, N., Pope, Z., & Gao, Z. (2017). Acute effect of virtual reality exercise bike games on college students’ physiological and psychological outcomes. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. (impact factor: 2.88)

    Gao, Z., Chen, S., Huang, C., Stodden, D., & Xiang, P. (2016). Investigating elementary school children’s daily physical activity and sedentary behaviors during weekdays. Journal of Sport Science. (impact factor: 2.25)

    Gao, Z., Lee, J., Pope, Z., & Zhang, D. (2016). Effects of exergaming on children’s classroom behaviors and effort. Games for Health Journal, 5(5). DOI: 10.1089/g4h.2016.0049 (impact factor: 2.03). 

    Gao, Z., Chen, S., Pasco, D., & Pope, Z. (2015). Effects of active video games on physiological and psychological outcomes among children and adolescents: A meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews, 16, 783-794. doi: 10.1111/obr.12287 (impact factor: 7.995) 

    Gao, Z., & Chen, S. (2014). Are field-based exergames useful in preventing childhood obesity? A systematic review. Obesity Reviews, 15, 676-691. doi: 10.1111/obr.12164 (impact factor: 7.995)

    Gao, Z., Hannan, P. F., Xiang, P., Stodden, D., & Valdez, V. (2013). Video game–based exercise, Latino children’s physical health, and academic achievement. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 44(3S3), s240-s246. (impact factor: 4.28)

    Gao, Z., & Podlog, L. (2012). Urban Latino children’s physical activity levels and performance in interactive video dance games: Effects of goal difficulty and goal specificity. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine,166(10), 933-937. (impact factor: 4.25)

    Gao, Z. (2012). Urban Latino school children’s physical activity correlates and daily physical activity participation: A social cognitive perspective. Psychology, Health and Medicine, 17(5), 542-550. DOI:10.1080/13548506.2011.647699.  (impact factor: 1.53)