Tuesday, December 1 , 2015, 6:09 pm | Fair 61º

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.

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