FITNESS GURU: Rosemary Conley wants to share her keep-fit message with other older people
Fitness has brought Rosemary Conley fame, fortune and happiness, but she also credits it with helping save her life too.
The 1980s diet and exercise guru shot to fame with her Hip And Thigh Diet in 1988, later launching a nationwide chain of franchised Rosemary Conley Diet and Fitness Clubs. Now aged 76 she is still leading aerobics classes despite suffering from asthma since childhood.
“When I was two, I developed asthma. I was really very poorly as a child, and my parents were told I was unlikely to live beyond 10 years old,” says Rosemary. “Thankfully, and obviously, I’ve lived a lot longer than that!”
Now 76, she has made very good use of the ‘extra’ time she’s had. As well as her clubs, which went into administration in 2014, she’s written numerous books, made regular TV and video appearances and still teaches exercise classes.
Rosemary, who lives with her second husband Mike Rimmington in Leicestershire, is also an ambassador for charity Asthma + Lung UK. Teaching fitness for 50 years has helped develop her lungs, but she continues to see a specialist regularly who says if she hadn’t become a fitness trainer, her life story would have been very different.
She now has monthly injections of a new biologic asthma drug, which has “dramatically extended” her breathing capacity, as well as taking four inhalers every day, plus a bronchodilator.
“Right through my life, with inhalers, tablets, etc, I’ve managed my asthma,” she says. “I’ve never been hospitalised with it, but it has very much been there. I’ve had to have steroids occasionally. I’ve had pneumonia, I’ve had chest infections, and my body will react badly if I get a really bad cold.”
She also has the chronic lung condition bronchiectasis, which damages the airways and can cause excessive mucus. Rosemary said: “It all sounds incredibly gloomy, but I have to tell you, I’ve led an incredibly full life. I still teach classes, I go for personal training twice a week, and I do a ballet class on a Friday.
"Normally, I walk for 30 minutes every morning as well. I invest myself in my fitness because I want to live – I want to live as long as I can possibly drag every year out of my life!”
Although she’s very slim and fit now, Rosemary admits she struggled with weight problems before discovering low-fat eating in 1986. She says it changed her whole life, as far as food was concerned, because she found she could eat quite well and lose weight.
A few years later, her Hip And Thigh Diet was published. “It was a huge international bestseller, it made me famous,” she says. “It was very appropriate then, it’s not particularly appropriate now. I still bang the drum for low-fat, even though it’s completely unfashionable. I still eat a low-fat diet myself, absolutely.”
She says she “absolutely never” eats takeaways, declaring: “I think they’re unhealthy. I really am a firm believer that we should try and cook our own food so we know what’s in it, and if we did, we’d feel so much better.”
Despite her age, she has no plans to hang up her trainers, and is still full of infectious enthusiasm about the classes she teaches and their loyal members – some of whom are even older than she is.
“I do two classes every Monday night, I’ve been doing them for 50 years, and I have many members who’ve been coming for over 40 years and they’re still coming every week, bless them. I love them! They’re fitness classes, and we do some aerobics and some strength work, and I have three people who are over 80, and about 10 people in their mid-70s. We’ve all grown old together.”
She also attends weekly gym and ballet sessions to help keep her core muscles strong, despite the fact she has arthritis in her feet and hands.
Rosemary is determined to share her keep-fit message with other older people and in 2021 launched a new website (rosemaryconley.com), designed to help the over-60s live longer, healthier, happier lives. She believes exercise is crucial whatever your age, and for people just starting a fitness journey, she suggests simply going for a walk.
Rosemary said: “It’s free, it’s healthy, it’s good for your legs, it’s good for your heart and lungs. And if you’re feeling fitter, then find a walk with a bit of a hill in it, and that’s even better. It’s never, ever too late to change your lifestyle. With the right attitude and a love for life, it’s amazing what can be achieved.”
Report by Lisa Salmon
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