So-called "long sleepers" might have something to worry about other than a muscle ache: a greater risk for stroke, according to a new analysis.

Researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center, presenting their findings at the International Stroke Conference of the American Stroke Association last week, showed just how much sleep as well as exercise can influence one's odds for having a stroke.

They found that those who slept more than eight hours every night had 146 percent greater likelihood of suffering a stroke. In contrast, those who snoozed seven to eight hours a night had a 25 percent lower stroke risk, while those who got restful sleep and 30 minutes to one hour of vigorous physical activity three to six times weekly significantly reduced their risk.

Using computer analysis, the team pored over the health and lifestyle data of more than 280,000 adults, about half of which were ages 45 and above, and 77 percent were white.

What role does sleep exactly play in one's stroke risks?

"Some of us look at sleep as the enemy. It gets in our way of doing things," said lead researcher Azizi Seixas, as quoted by HealthDay.

She added that growing evidence, however, favors adequate sleep as the "third" pillar of health, following a balanced diet and regular exercise.

She explained that an elevated stroke risk among long sleepers may be reflective of an indirect effect, such as if one is sleeping a lot it is probably a symptom of being less active throughout the day.

ASA spokesperson and neurology professor Daniel Lackland said blood pressure may also be a factor in the link between sleep and stroke risk. Without deep, continuous sleep, one's blood pressure does not have the chance to drop to the right natural level. The heart, kidneys, and brain, too, do not get the opportunity for reduced workload.

Cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum from New York City's Lenox Hill Hospital echoed the crucial role of sleep, although confirming it is not yet fully understood today.

"Sleep in itself is really a factor that increases so many other risk factors that lead to heart disease, whether it's blood pressure or behaviors you do when you're tired," she said, adding that when one is sleepier, she tends to skip exercising and choose bad dietary choices.

According to the American Heart Association, about 795,000 suffer a stroke each year. The condition is the fifth leading killer in the country, with nearly 129,000 individual dying each year.

African Americans maintain almost double the first-time stroke risk of whites, along with a much higher death rate from it.

Photo: Clare Bell | Flickr

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