Wednesday, May 25 , 2016, 6:06 am | Mostly Cloudy 52º

Rae Largura: The Science of a Good Brain

By Rae Largura |

What if all it took to be smarter is to take care of the grey matter in our brains?

There are two kinds of neurons in our brains, and they make up what is known as "grey matter" and "white matter."

Grey matter contains most of the brain's neuronal cell bodies. The grey matter includes regions of the brain involved in muscle control, and sensory perception such as seeing and hearing, memory, emotions, speech, decision making and self-control. While 20 percent of all oxygen taken in by the body goes to the brain, 95 percent of that goes specifically into the grey matter.

Grey matter is made up of nerve cells called dendrites. Dendrites belong to the system in your brain that allows different parts of your brain to talk to each other through electrical and chemical impulses. They fan out, tangle and weave together. When you're learning something new or honing a skill, they connect and weave, and get even thicker and stronger, coming together to create a network.

The more you exercise your brain, the more you expose yourself to new experiences and information, and the more you learn and practice skills, such as sports or music, even juggling, the thicker and more interwoven the grey matter in our brains become. The stronger our grey matter, the smarter we can be.

There are things that can shrink dendrites as well. If you are chronically sleep deprived or chronically stressed, dendrites shrink away from each other and get thinner and less dense. Smoking will dramatically decrease the grey matter in your brain.

Have you ever noticed that you can find yourself struggling to remember something, or not as quick thinking, or not able to take on a new task when you are stressed or sleep deprived? The connections between dendrites and the dense, interwoven connections have started to fall away from each other and shrink back.

Boredom can also shrink your dendrites on a smaller scale. If you're in a chronic state of disinterest about your world, you're not doing your dendrites any favor. Your grey matter wants to grow, connect and support for full potential for learning and memory, and it needs “interests” in order to do that.

I know being smart is not as simple as this article, but what if ... most of what your brain craves in order to perform well, is to stay motivated, challenged and get some rest?

Any subject, any grade: What is your question for a tutor? Email [email protected]. Ask a Tutor runs biweekly.

— Rae Largura is president of Leading Edge Tutors. The opinions expressed are her own.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk's intent is not to limit the discussion of our stories but to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and must be free of profanity and abusive language and attacks.

By posting on Noozhawk, you:

» Agree to be respectful. Noozhawk encourages intelligent and impassioned discussion and debate, but now has a zero-tolerance policy for those who cannot express their opinions in a civil manner.

» Agree not to use Noozhawk’s forums for personal attacks. This includes any sort of personal attack — including, but not limited to, the people in our stories, the journalists who create these stories, fellow readers who comment on our stories, or anyone else in our community.

» Agree not to post on Noozhawk any comments that can be construed as libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar, harmful, threatening, tortious, harassing, abusive, hateful, sexist, racially or ethnically objectionable, or that are invasive of another’s privacy.

» Agree not to post in a manner than emulates, purports or pretends to be someone else. Under no circumstances are readers posting to Noozhawk to knowingly use the name or identity of another person, whether that is another reader on this site, a public figure, celebrity, elected official or fictitious character. This also means readers will not knowingly give out any personal information of other members of these forums.

» Agree not to solicit others. You agree you will not use Noozhawk’s forums to solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites, without Noozhawk’s express written approval.

Noozhawk’s management and editors, in our sole discretion, retain the right to remove individual posts or to revoke the access privileges of anyone who we believe has violated any of these terms or any other term of this agreement; however, we are under no obligation to do so.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.