Clinically based studies have indicated that patients who have suffered myocardial infarction (MI) exhibit lower heart rate variability (HRV). Such associations have not been reported at the population level. To investigate whether MI is related to lower HRV in the general population, the authors examined a stratified random sample of 2,243 men and women aged 45-64 years, of whom 260 had had MI and 1,983 were free of any coronary heart disease manifestations. All were part of the biracial cohort of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study sampled from four United States communities. Resting, 2-minute supine heart rate data were analyzed using spectral analysis to estimate high-frequency (0.16-0.35 Hz) and low-frequency (0.025-0.15 Hz) spectral powers as conventional indices of HRV. The mean levels of high-frequency powers were 1.02 and 1.23 (beats/min)2 for MI and non-MI groups, respectively (P < .05), and the low-frequency means were 2.46 and 3.11 (beats/min)2 for MI and non-MI groups, respectively (P < .01). Age, race, and sex-adjusted odds ratios (95% confidence interval) of lower high-frequency and low-frequency powers contrasting MI to non-MI individuals were 1.52 (range, 1.09-2.10) and 1.54 (range, 1.12-2.10), respectively. After adjustment for use of beta-blocker medication, the odds ratios (95% confidence interval) were 1.26 (range, 0.88-1.81) and 1.22 (range, 0.87-1.69) for lower high-frequency and low-frequency powers, respectively. The findings from this first population-based study of prevalent MI and HRV provide support for an inverse association between MI and lower HRV. However, adjusting for beta-blocker use eliminates the statistical association. These findings confirm that impaired HRV is found in individuals with prevalent MI, even when drawn as a sample of community-dwelling individuals. This impaired HRV may contribute to the increased risk of subsequent cardiovascular events previously observed in survivors of acute MI. The cross-sectional data also suggest that use of beta-blockers diminishes the odds of lower HRV associated with MI.