Background Age related decline in physical function is a significant concern affecting the quality of life of older individuals. Methods We examined the associations between baseline overall cardiovascular health (CVH), its components, and physical function in 906 men and women from the InCHIANTI cohort. Physical function was assessed using the Short Performance Physical Battery and poor physical function was defined as an Short Performance Physical Battery score less than 10. Overall CVH score, ranging from 0 to 12 in the cohort, was operationalized using adherence to ideal levels for health behaviors including smoking status, physical activity, body mass index, and diet quality; and health factors including blood pressure, plasma cholesterol, fasting blood glucose, with higher scores indicating better CVH. Results Mean age at baseline was 74 (SD = 6.7) years and 55% were women. At baseline and over 9 years, as compared to the lowest tertile of overall CVH score, the highest tertile was associated with a 69% (p < .001) and 63% (p < .001), respectively, lower risk of poor physical function. Among the CVH components, adherence to ideal levels of health behaviors was more strongly and consistently associated with lower odds of poor physical function than health factors. Conclusions Better overall CVH was protective against poor physical function in community-dwelling men and women aged 65 years and older. Improving CVH may be instrumental in the prevention of poor physical function in older adults.