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A Concerto to Sweat by

April 04, 2004

It seems those joggers wearing earphones to avoid hearing the horns of large vehicles bearing down from behind may, in fact, be on to something. (Assuming those runners are actually listening to music, not just fending off social interaction.) Everyone knows exercise improves health, although that doesn't prompt everybody to do anything. Chances are, for instance, you're not running right now. But according to the journal Heart & Lung, a team of Ohio State University researchers has found that exercising to music -- at least to Antonio Vivaldi -- not only improves physical conditioning, it also improves mental conditioning. People get smarter if they work out while listening to certain music.

The research team was headed by Charles Emery, a very smart workout enthusiast who disdains elevators, preferring sit-ups, stationary bikes, Rachmaninoff and Elvis Costello. He tested 33 men and women in cardiac rehabilitation. Twice, a week apart, the subjects took verbal fluency and mood-testing quizzes before and after running 30 minutes on a treadmill. One workout was stimulus-free. The other involved listening to Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons." Both times all subjects felt refreshed and enhanced. But their verbal fluency scores doubled after listening to those four violin concerti written 279 years ago, well before exercise was an industry.

Next, researchers should study if results vary by sound. Would listening to, say, Bill O'Reilly, cause high blood pressure, or Larry King boost suspender sales? Can reality TV cause halitosis? Do workout enthusiasts listening to political shouting matches become serial killers?

Some might suggest this research was mere publicity by Vivaldi's agent to boost music sales -- "Tony's Top 10 Workout Wonders!"

The son of a professional violinist was born in 1678 in Venice, Italy, where jogging on canals is difficult. Vivaldi entered the priesthood but returned to music, becoming a popular composer of concerto and religious vocal works. Eventually, he switched from the concerto to lucrative operas, which were more four-hour packages of party background music than today's stage spectacles. The recording industry wasn't big then either. Much music was written for a specific occasion, then tossed. So composers freely recycled old works or passages for new fees.

Despite his bold compositions and musical imagination, the Venetian celeb grew somewhat controversial in later years for refusing to say Mass and for his relationship with a Vivaldi groupie, a young music student and traveling companion who happened to be female. Not known as a physical fitness buff, the composer of "The Four Seasons" did make it to Vienna once. There, 16 years after writing Ohio State's favorite cardio-rehab music, he died anyway at 63 of asthma, and, believe it or not, angina.

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