IN the gym at 7am for a 15km run, followed by two hours of badminton, burning thousands of calories - followed by a well-earned pint at lunchtime.

That's the routine of 70-year-old retired restaurateur Francis Betiku, from Darlington, part of a growing band of senior citizens keeping old age at bay by maintaining a vigorous exercise regime.

Mr Betiku is part of the furniture at the Dolphin Centre, the town's council-run leisure centre.

He says it is never too late for people his age - and older - to get fit and active.

Last month, The Northern Echo told the story of Mary Slater, still a regular at the centre's keep fit classes at the age of 90.

Mr Betiku, who ran an Indian restaurant in the 1980s and 1990s, said: "I used to be a boxer when I was younger, then I got married, had kids and a business and got too busy for exercise.

"I found myself developing a bit of a stomach and decided it was about time to get back in the gym."

Mr Betiku uses exercises as a means of controlling his diabetes, meaning he has to take fewer tablets.

He added: "Most days, I try to spend at least four hours exercising and try to burn at least 2,500 calories.

"You are never, never too old to start exercising - you will have fewer aches and pains and enjoy your life more.

"I know not everybody is able to exercise at my age, for a variety of reasons, but if you can, it is best to get out their and exercise.

"You will be surprised at what you can achieve if you put your mind to it."

A variety of classes and exercise sessions for older people is on offer at the Dolphin Centre, including aerobics, table tennis, swimming and pilates.

A centre spokeswoman said: "Our seniors programme is a really important part of our overall offer and we are looking to grow this further over the next 12 months."

For more information, visit