Since ancient times, dogs have left a lasting, endearing paw-print on the lives of human beings. Today, science continues to back up the advantages of being in the presence of our four-legged best friends.

You don't necessarily need to own a dog to reap the benefits of their companionship. Volunteering at a shelter, dog-sitting or dog-walking someone else's pet can be commitment-free opportunities for interaction. Dogs are also being allowed in many workplaces and colleges to improve the well-being of employees and students. 

So how exactly do they leave a 'pawsitive' impact on our physical and mental health?

They encourage regular exercise and a better social life.

Owning a dog means you now have a daily partner for physical activity, and this significantly increases the likelihood of regular exercise. Studies show dog-walking was associated with lower body mass index, fewer activities of daily living limitations, fewer doctor visits, and more frequent moderate and vigorous exercise.

A regular dog-walking schedule can also improve your social life. "Pet ownership appears to be a significant factor for facilitating social interaction and friendship formation within neighborhoods," writes Dr. Lisa Wood, associate professor at the University of Western Australia.

They reduce stress and increase productivity.

Spending a sizable portion of the day in a work/study environment can come with its own challenges. But being in the company of dogs can energize the mind and lead to a notable decline in stress levels

Additionally, a new study published this week confirmed that therapy dog sessions at university can boost student wellness and reduce feelings of negativity. The researchers encouraged such sessions during stressful times such as exam periods.

They help fight against mental illness.

Research show dogs promote physical touch and affection, which can help in curbing depression and feelings of anxiety. Furthermore, taking care of a dog involves responsibility and following an established routine (getting out of bed, walking the dog, feeding it on time etc.), a recommended lifestyle for improving mental health problems. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness noted that even simply playing with dogs elevates oxytocin and dopamine, conditioning a positive mindset. 

Harvard Medical School released a special report titled "Get Healthy, Get a Dog," stating "One of the greatest benefits of owning a dog is that it encourages you to practice mindfulness — being in the present moment and fully appreciating life."

They are associated with a decreased risk of heart disease.

Scientists found that canine companions are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, though the exact causes are yet to be established.

A 2017 study found, having a dog reduced the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 36% for people who lived alone. Tove Fall, professor of epidemiology at Uppsala University in Sweden, explained it may be attributed to a lot more than just physical exercise. "My impression is that this has to do with social support," she said.