Merrimack Professor’s Book Looks to Change the Culture of Youth Physical Activity in China

What started as blog postings during the pandemic evolved into Professor Zi Yan becoming a published author in her home country.
Photo of Zi Yan holding a copy of her book, “Run Kids: Exercise Physiology and Parents Practice Guide,”
Merrimack Professor Zi Yan's latest book, “Run Kids: Exercise Physiology and Parents Practice Guide,” preaches the importance of physical activity on the growing mind.

The demand for children and youth in China to succeed academically has made  an afterthought, even considered a time waster, among parents.

Merrimack College Professor Zi Yan is not only working to change that perception but also show that physical activity is just as important to brain development as studying and school work. 

Yan, who has been at Merrimack for 11 years and is a faculty member in the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, recently published “Run Kids: Exercise Physiology and Parents Practice Guide” in her home country that uses scientific evidence, as well as her own reflections as an expert, to educate parents on the myriad of benefits regular physical activity can have on children as they grow.

“This book focuses on the parents and how to guide and motivate their children’s physical activity,” said Yan. “The number one question I will get from parents in China is ‘If my child spends time on physical activity, won’t it take away from their academics?’ But the evidence shows physical activity enhances academic performance and improves memory and cognitive functions.”

Yan, who has her doctorate in exercise psychology from Oregon State University, did not set out to write a book to change the culture around youth physical activity in an entire country. The writings that would turn into the book began as blog posts Yan published geared toward Chinese audiences on the physiological aspects of physical activity and behavioral change.

Publishing books in China is a complex and challenging process. Authors must first get the endorsement of state-owned publishers that then help navigate the process. 

“There is no book like this on the market in China,” Yan noted. “And it is not meant to lecture, but to start a conversation.” 

In addition to suggestions for everyday exercises, which feature photos of Yan’s own children, she also writes about the positive impact that children participating in physical activities and organized sports can have on the entire family.

“Here in the U.S. there is a strong culture of parents being very involved in their children’s sports and that doesn’t exist in China,” Yan said. “That connection and bonding is very important. I do hope through this book that parents realize they can help motivate their children to be more physically active but it is something they should be involved in.”

Yan also credits her teaching responsibilities, as well as her colleagues at Merrimack, for helping her frame the content in her book. 

“I see this book as being part of Merrimack,” Yan said. “Doing research here, talking with students and colleagues helps give me more themes beyond the classroom.”

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