Rosemary Conley says: ‘Doctors told me I probably wouldn’t live past 10’


The diet guru talks about the revolutionary drug that gave her a brand new life in her 70s who has suffered from severe asthma since childhood

Rosemary has benefited from a new biological treatment
Rosemary has benefited from a new biological treatment

As one of the country’s most well-known fitness gurus, diet queen Rosemary Conley has helped thousands of people shed pounds and get in shape.

But despite Rosemary teaching countless exercise classes and being a regular at the gym herself, she’s surprisingly suffered from severe asthma for most of her life and says she’s lucky to be alive.

“It’s something I’ve always known could kill me, so I take it very seriously,” says Rosemary, 75, who was diagnosed with asthma when she was just two years old. “

My lungs were so underdeveloped that the doctors told my parents I probably wouldn’t live past the age of 10.”

Her breathing was so bad that she was observed at a children’s hospital for three months at the age of eight, only to be discharged with a liquid inhaler that she had to hold for a full month.

“Every spray was precious,” recalls Rosemary, who lives in Leicestershire. “I spent most of my childhood watching from the sidelines how much I couldn’t do.”

Luckily for Rosemary, her asthma became less of a problem as her lungs developed and medicine advanced, but she insists the reason she wasn’t sicker is because she monitors her condition regularly and attends regular checkups goes.

“The last time I had a serious asthma attack was in my 20s. I was watching a cricket match on a freshly mowed lawn and something about that grass was really making my lungs worse. I can still remember the terror as I tried to breathe.”

Rosemary’s gymnastics class in the 80’s


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Since then, Rosemary has been diligent in managing the condition and is now taking four inhalers a day, some helping to prevent seizures and others relieving symptoms.

Severe asthma affects 200,000 people in the UK and is the most severe and life-threatening form. Someone with severe asthma has trouble controlling their symptoms, even with high doses of medication.

“We don’t understand why some people get asthma and why some people’s asthma gets more severe and more difficult to treat. We will continue to push for more research in this area,” says Dr. Andy Whittamore, Clinical Director for the charity Asthma + Lung UK.

Four years ago, Rosemary was also diagnosed with the chronic lung disease bronchiectasis, which causes damage to the airways and can lead to excessive phlegm, uncontrollable coughing, fatigue and regular chest infections.

Slightly more hopefully, rosemary has recently found new life thanks to biologics, a type of drug developed after research funded by Asthma + Lung UK to treat some severe asthmatics.

In the last two months she has been prescribed the drug and the effect has been amazing. “My breathing is so much better now and surprisingly it’s also really reduced my bronchiectasis symptoms, which I wasn’t expecting,” she says.

Another plus of the medication is that Rosemary no longer has to take as many steroid pills as she was prescribed. Steroids can be a lifesaver for people with asthma, but they come with a variety of side effects. For Rosemary, these included rapid heartbeat, thinning skin, and terrible insomnia.

“These biological drugs are like a laser-guided missile compared to steroids, which could be compared to cluster bombs, because they have so many undesirable side effects,” says Ian Pavord, professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Oxford.

“The problem is that only a fifth of people who are eligible for these drugs have access to them because so many people with severe asthma are unaware that biologics exist.”

“Biological treatments for asthma are also known as monoclonal antibodies. These are special treatments with antibodies that can target specific cells or chemicals in the body,” explains Dr. Whittamore.

“Monoclonal antibodies can treat some types of severe asthma by helping to stop the processes that cause pneumonia. This is inflammation that can be caused by allergies or by high levels of a cell in the body called an eosinophil.”

Being fit has helped Rosemary fight asthma



Aside from medication, Dr. Whittamore says that while taking their medication as prescribed is most important for people with asthma or lung disease, exercise is also important whenever possible.

“Being more active helps you use more of your lungs and use them more efficiently — which can help reduce chest symptoms,” he says.

“It’s also good for general fitness, can help with weight management and promote mental health – all of which can have a positive impact on asthma and other lung diseases.”

Exercise has clearly never been a trigger for Rosemary’s asthma. In fact, she believes her weekly regimen of two exercise classes, three workout sessions, a ballet class, and a daily walk has helped keep her going.

“Every time my advisor gives me a peak flow test [a measurement of how quickly air can be exhaled from the lungs] He’s always amazed that I can go to the gym and have skated for so many years,” she says.

“He was blunt in saying that if it weren’t for my fitness and the proactive way I look after my lungs, I probably wouldn’t be here anymore.

“I will never forget that.”

  • Rosemary is an ambassador for Asthma + Lung UK (; 0300 222 5800), the UK’s leading charity supporting people with lung disease. More people die from lung disease and asthma in the UK than in any other western European country, and the number of deaths has doubled in the last 20 years. The charity is urging the government to invest more research into lung diseases and new treatments.

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