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Increasing levels of resting heart rate are associated with increased risk of developing hypertension and cardiovascular disease, and seem to play a role in the progression of heart failure. The shape of the association between resting heart rate and risk of developing heart failure has not been examined in healthy individuals of the general population.Hazard ratios (HRs) of heart failure comparing categories of resting heart rate [51–60 b.p.m. (reference), 61–70 b.p.m., 71–80 b.p.m., 81–90 b.p.m., and 91–100 b.p.m.] were calculated in apparently healthy men (9805) and women (12 321) aged 39–79 participating in the ‘European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition’ (EPIC) study in Norfolk. During a mean follow-up of 12.9 years, 1356 incident cases of heart failure occurred. In participants without potential heart rate-modifying medication, age- and sex-adjusted incidence rates of heart failure were 3.3, 3.7, 4.0, 5.1, and 5.5 per 1000 person-years for increasing categories of resting heart rate; compared with the reference category, HRs and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for increasing categories of resting heart rate were 1.08 (0.88–1.34), 1.17 (0.94–1.46), 1.39 (1.08–1.79), and 1.42 (1.00–2.03), respectively, in multivariable analysis adjusting for age, sex, body mass index, systolic blood pressure, prevalent diabetes, cholesterol concentration, social class, educational level, smoking, and physical activity. Within the reference range of resting heart rate (50–100 b.p.m.) each 10 b.p.m. increase was associated with an 11% increase in hazard of heart failure in multivariable analysis. The results did not change materially after adjusting for myocardial infarction and coronary heart disease events during follow up (1.12, 1.06–1.18).Resting heart rate shows a graded association with hazard of heart failure in apparently healthy men and women which is not mediated by coronary heart disease. Further study is needed to examine the underlying mechanisms.