The study followed 27,686 people age 50 and older with no history of cardiovascular disease. The participants were divided into three groups based on their vitamin D levels of normal, low or very low.
After just a year, those with very low levels were 77 percent more likely to die, 45 percent more likely to develop coronary artery disease and 78 percent more likely to have a stroke compared to those with normal vitamin D levels.
"We concluded that among patients 50 years of age or older, even a moderate deficiency of vitamin D levels was associated with developing coronary artery disease, heart failure, stroke and death," said study co-author Heidi May.
Researchers also said the study is important because treating vitamin D deficiency is easy.
"When you consider that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in America, you understand how this research can help improve the length and quality of people's lives," May added.
Vitamin D is easily obtained, by spending just minutes in sunlight each day and by consuming fatty fish or fortified dairy products, including milk.
The study will be presented at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.