I’ve always seen garden sheds as a man’s birth right—a place where a man can plan and execute whatever DIY projects are required at his leisure; a place where the Sunday news paper’s puzzle section can be done in relative quiet and solitude. Though, for the past few years, sheds have been the thing around which a growing number of men’s health initiatives have begun to crystalize. The idea is that men don’t talk face-to-face, men talk shoulder-to-shoulder. So in an effort to get men to open up about their health problems, instead of ignoring that annoying cough, or persistent pain until it’s too late, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the UK have all started programs under the aegis of the shed to get men together to talk about their woes.
The first shed group began as individual communal sheds dotted around Australia. Provided by communities or individuals with spare shed space, the idea was to supply sheds to men who otherwise didn’t have access to a shed. It wasn’t until after the grass-roots movement united into the Australian Men’s Shed Association that directors of the AMSA recognized the movement’s potential for raising awareness in support of health issues affecting men. It turns out that besides providing a productive space for men to come and tinker, they were helping solve the issue of social isolation in retirement age men—a contributing factor in substance abuse, depression, anxiety, etc.
The AMSA has also used the sheds as a platform for encouraging men to seek preventative health care, which has been shown to be dangerously underutilized by men. It’s suggested that even in nations with well-developed healthcare systems, almost half of all men will die prematurely (as opposed to almost a fourth of all women), and that half of these premature deaths are caused by illness that is otherwise preventable—indicating that men aren’t seeking access to healthcare until it’s too late.
Now New Zealand, Ireland and the UK all have their own budding men’s shed programs in place, and are currently involved in building partnerships and international exchange with each other. However more recently there was a bit of stir in the UK papers about shed ownership actually increasing life span in men thanks to shed related activities being inherently relaxing (and the health benefits springing therefrom). Though, the stories were all vaguely related to the AMSA’s efforts in Australia, the main thrust of the stories was about a paper published in the British Medical Journal outlining the findings of five case studies of men with sheds—findings that the BMJ later commented on in an editorial stating the study was based on shaky grounds. So will sheds increase you lifespan? Not likely, but they are certainly being used as a mascot to affect some positive change in men’s health—which is the real story here.