Curious claim that garden sheds make men healthy

Behind the Headlines

Thursday December 1 2011

There's no proven link between garden sheds and male longevity

The Daily Mail has claimed that sheds “could help men live longer.” The newspaper adds that the “therapeutic effects of pottering around relieves stress, which lowers blood pressure and even boosts self-esteem”.

This shed story has shaky foundations. It is loosely based on an article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) about the need for policy, practice and research aimed specifically at men’s health in Europe. Sheds are only briefly mentioned in this article, and not in this particular context. The references to “Men’s sheds” relate to an Australian skills and wellbeing programme that provides a place for male-focused activities outside work, but not in a small building at the end of the garden. The BMJ article does not discuss the potential health benefits of sheds, but instead describes the growing “Men’s sheds” programme as being a way to target health promotion messages at a male audience.

The rather gimmicky coverage of sheds in the news should not distract from the important questions raised by the article of how European men’s health could be improved, perhaps by following the example of the Aussies.

 

What is the basis for these current reports?

The news story has been prompted by an editorial in the BMJ on men’s health. In this article, the authors discuss the conclusions of a report published this year, called "The State of Men’s Health in Europe", which was produced for the European Commission. This extensive report found that there are “marked differences” between the health of men and women, and that there is a “high level of preventable premature morbidity and mortality in men, which will only be addressed by targeted activity across the lifespan”. The average difference in life expectancy between men and women in the EU was found to be more than six years.

The BMJ editorial discusses the idea that some of these health discrepancies are due to lifestyles and behaviours traditionally considered as “masculine”, and summarises possible policy measures, practice and research directions aimed at improving men’s health.

 

So, what does the article say about men’s sheds?

The “Men’s sheds” programme is one of several examples of new initiatives targeted at engaging men more effectively that the BMJ article mentions, although these are not specifically mentioned in the report on men’s health for the European Commission.

The "Men's sheds" programme provides spaces and workshops specifically devoted to men who want an activity outside home and work. The concept of providing these spaces was developed in Australia, and is now being trialled in Europe. The Age UK website reports that there is a pilot “Men in sheds” project operating for older men in the UK. The project aims to reduce feelings of isolation and improve health and well-being.

The BMJ article does not specifically discuss any potential benefits of the “Men’s sheds” programmes. It provides a reference to a small study in which just five older men who took part in these programmes in Australia were interviewed about their experiences. Their experiences were reported to be positive.

 

What about the benefits of other men’s health programmes?

The article gives some examples of programmes that have been reported to have been beneficial, including the Scottish Well Men Health Service pilots, the BT Workfit initiative and the Royal Mail’s health initiatives. These initiatives and their benefits included:

  • contacting men who had not seen their GP in the past two years
  • introducing changes in lifestyle
  • reductions in weight
  • reductions in work absences

 

So what is the main message of the BMJ editorial?

The BMJ editorial aimed to highlight that, in Europe, men still have poorer health than women and that there is a need to work with men in a focused and constructive way to remedy this.

Therefore, some news headlines have been misleading by suggesting that men can improve their health simply by tackling crosswords and DIY in a garden shed; the benefits of which are not discussed in the BMJ editorial.

Links to the headlines

One man and his shed: Why the humble garden retreat could help men live longer. Daily Mail, November 30 2011

Why every man needs time in his shed. The Daily Telegraph, November 30 2011

Further reading

White A, McKee M, Richardson N et al. Europe’s men need their own health strategy. BMJ. 2011;343:d7397

European Commission: The State of Men’s Health in Europe (PDF, 3.64Mb). 2011

Ormsby J, Stanley M, and Jaworski K. Older men’s participation in community-based men’s sheds programmes. Health and Social Care in the Community. 2010;18: 607–613.

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Analysis by Bazian

Edited by NHS Choices