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Professor and Department Head
HPER 328

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Faculty Profile
Physical Activity Epidemiology Laboratory


Dr. Zan Gao obtained his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University in 2007. He is the Department Head and Professor in the Department of Kinesiology, Recreation, and Sport Studies at The University of Tennessee. He was the professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the School of Kinesiology at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, specializing in physical activity and health. Dr. Gao’s research has primarily focused on promoting health through population-based physical activity interventions with emerging technologies such as active video games, online social media and mobile device apps.

In the past 16 years, Dr. Gao has given over 246 presentations at various international and national conferences. He has also published 169 (including 128 first-authored or senior-authored) research articles in peer-reviewed journals such as the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Obesity Review, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Journal of Clinical 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); 29 book chapters and 3 edited books. 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 the 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 JTPE, the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, and the Journal of School Health, as the Section Editor for Measurement in Physical Education and Exercise Science, the Editorial Board Member for the JTPE, Games for Health, Journal of Clinical Medicine, and Associate Editor for Journal of Health and Sports Science, International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, and RQES, and Editor-in-chief for Journal of Research, Teaching, and Media in Kinesiology.

Dr. Gao is currently an active Fellow of National Academy of Kinesiology, the Fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine and the Fellow of Shape America! Research Council. He was the President of the International Chinese Society for Physical Activities and Health from 2017-2018. He was on the faculty at the University of Utah and Texas Tech University from 2007-2012.

Outside work, Dr. Gao enjoys playing/coaching soccer and practicing a variety of leisure activities (e.g., traveling, playing Guitar, Chinese calligraphy, reading, running, etc.).


2023-Present Department Head and Professor Physical Activity and Health – The University of Tennessee, Knoxville

2012 – 2023

Professor with Tenure (2022), Associate Professor with Tenure (2016), Assistant Professor of Physical Activity and Health Promotion;

School of Kinesiology, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, MN

2010 – 2012

Assistant Professor of Exercise Science

Texas Tech University, College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Health, Exercise and Sport Sciences

2010 – 2014

Adjunct Professor

University of Utah, College of Health, Department of Exercise and Sport Science

2007 – 2010

Assistant Professor of Sports Pedagogy

University of Utah, College of Health, Department of Exercise and Sport Science

2003 – 2007

Graduate Assistant

Louisiana State University



Louisiana State University

Kinesiology (Concentration: Pedagogy and Psychological Science of Physical activity)

Minor: Experimental Statistics


Beijing Sport University (previously named Beijing University of Physical Education)

Physical Education Teaching and Coaching


Hunan Normal University

Physical Education


Gao, Z., Ryu, S., Zhou, W., Hassan, M., Adams, K., Zhang, R., Bleas, A., Wolfson, J., & Sun, J. (2023). Effects of personalized exercise prescriptions and social media delivered through m-health on cancer survivors’ physical activity and quality of life. Journal of Sport and Health Science. S2095-2546(23)00071-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2023.07.002. (Impact factor: 11.70).

Gao, Z., Ryu, S., & Chen, Y. (2022). Effects of Tai Chi App and Facebook health education programs on breast cancer survivors’ stress and quality of life in the era of pandemic. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. 48:101621. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2022.101621. Epub ahead of print. (Impact factor: 3. 57).

Ryu, S., Adams, K., Chen, Y., & Gao, Z. (2022). Breast cancer survivors’ physical activity, psychosocial beliefs, daily trip behaviors, and subjective well-being: A descriptive study. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice. Epub ahead of print.

Hassan, M., Liu, W., McDonough, D.J., Su, X., & Gao, Z. (2022). Comparative effectiveness of physical activity intervention programs on children’s motor skills: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 19, 11914. (Impact factor: 4.614)

McDonough, D., Liu, W., & Gao, Z. (2021). Effects of a remote YouTube-delivered exercise intervention on young adults’ physical activity, sedentary behavior and sleep during the COVID-19 pandemic: Randomized controlled trial. Journal of Sport and Health Science. (Impact factor: 7.179).

McDonough, D.J., Liu, W, Su, X., & Gao, Z. (2021). Small-groups versus full-class exergaming on urban minority adolescents’ physical activity, enjoyment, and self-efficacy. Journal of Physical activity and Health. Advance online publication. (Impact factor: 2.25).

Lee, J., & Gao, Z. (2020). The effect of the iPad and mobile application-integrated physical education on children’s physical activity and psychosocial beliefs. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy. Available online May 8, 2020. DOI: 10.1080/17408989.2020.1761953 (impact factor: 2.928)

Su, X., McDonough, D.J., Chu, H., Quan, M., & Gao, Z. (2020). Application of network meta-analysis in the field of physical activity and health promotion. Journal of Sports and Health Science, 9(6), 511-520. doi: 10.1016/j.jshs.2020.07.011. (impact factor: 5.20)

Gao, Z., Zeng, N., Pope, Z.C., 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.

McDonough, D.J., Su, X., & Gao, Z. (2021). Health wearables for weight and BMI reduction in individuals with overweight/obesity and chronic comorbidities: Systematic review and network meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 55, 917-925. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2020-103594 (Impact factor: 13.80).

Gao, Z., Zeng, N., McDonough, D.J., & Su, X. (2020). A systematic review of active video games on youth’s body composition and physical activity. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 41(09): 561-573. DOI: 10.1055/a-1152-4959 (impact factor: 2.556)

Gao, Z., Lee, J., McDonough, D.J., & Albers, C. (2020). Virtual reality exercise as a coping strategy for health and wellness promotion in older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 9(6), 1986. (impact factor: 3.30)