News / Vancouver

Move out of the man cave and into the shed: UBC researcher

Forget man caves. A University of B.C. researcher wants to see more men gathering in sheds in Vancouver.

Based on a model from Australia, “men’s sheds” is a community program that sees men gather in a workshop or clubhouse to take part in woodworking, gardening, bike repair or other hobbies while in the company of other men.

Unlike so-called “man caves,” sheds encourage social interaction, which brings a host of health benefits, said UBC nursing professor John Oliffe.

“The man cave has often been associated with being by yourself and getting some alone time,” he told Metro. “But men’s sheds is different in that it is really about connecting with other blokes in a shared space.”

Using funds raised through Movember, Oliffe and his team at UBC’s Men’s Health Research program are working on developing a toolkit for groups of men who wish to start a new men’s shed.

Men’s sheds started in Australia in 1996 with a goal of improving the health of the older male population. The Australian government pumped millions of dollars into the program, building thousands of sheds in both urban and rural settings.

Oliffe said the program proved to be popular, especially among retirees and men going through divorces or bereavement, and helped to improve their health.

A 2011 study published in the British Medical Journal on the health impact of men’s sheds found the program could help men live longer by relieving stress and lowering blood pressure.

“A lot of guys, when they go through a divorce or they lose their job or they retire, can become socially isolated,” he said. “We know that that leads to depressive symptoms, and that social isolation is one of the key risk factors for suicide.”

It’s not just men who benefit from men’s sheds, said Oliffe. If men are healthier, he said the benefits flow on to the community, including women and children.

Oliffe believes men’s sheds also hold value for younger men, especially those who are unemployed. He said the sheds are an opportunity for “intergenerational mixing,” where older men can pass down “handyman skills” younger men may not have learned yet.

“Blokes a lot of times don’t feel like they can connect other fellas unless it’s over a beer or over hockey or football,” he said. “And that’s fine, but sometimes you might want a bit of a sounding board, an opportunity to talk about deeper stuff.”

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