Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of death and disability worldwide. The understanding of the risk factors for CVD may yield important insights into the prevention, etiology, course, and treatment of this major public health concern. We review the evidence for the role of vagal function in the risk for cardiovascular disease and mortality. Using a broad range of indicators of vagal function including resting heart rate, heart rate recovery, heart rate variability, and baroreflex sensitivity we show that decreased vagal function is associated with an increased risk for morbidity and mortality. These effects are independent of traditional risk factors. Moreover, we show that decreased vagal function is associated with both traditional and emerging risk factors as well as modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors. Most importantly, we provide evidence to support the notion that decreased vagal function precedes the development of a number of risk factors and that modification of risk profiles in the direction of lower risk is associated with increased vagal function. We close with a brief overview of the neural concomitants of vagal function and suggest that a model of neurovisceral integration may provide a unifying framework within which to investigate the impact of risk factors, including psychosocial factors, on cardiovascular disease.