SFI Health
How does the brain work?

How does the brain work?

Explore the inner workings of your brain and how each part has a specific role in how you think, move and feel.

Lifestyle insight
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What is the brain made of?

The different parts of your brain are all different curious shapes and sizes, but they are all made up of nerve cells – called neurons. In total, you have billions of neurons. They work together to coordinate your thoughts, movements, emotions, and behaviour – all within a matter of split seconds. 1,2

Neurons tend to have a very specific shape and very particular features. They have a round body that has branches called dendrites, and a long narrow tail called an axon. These features are critical for the way that neurons carry signals.2

How neurons carry signals

Neurons communicate with each other using a chain reaction of electrical impulses.

  • This chain reaction starts at the tip of a neuron’s axon, which releases chemicals (called neurotransmitters) into the space between two neurons (called a synapse)

  • The neurotransmitters relay an electrical impulse in the dendrites of the next neuron

  • This impulse gets carried through the neuron’s membrane all the way to its axon

  • The process then continues to the next neuron, and then the next2

The process is like a domino effect. Neurons are like dominos that have been carefully lined up in a complex network, so that they can set one another off by releasing neurotransmitters. 

Neurons in all the different parts of the brain carry signals this way. Some signals will be carried out from the brain to the body, to activate an action or function. Others will stay inside the brain, where they might form a memory, help you learn, or control your body clock.

What can you do to keep your brain healthy?

While the brain is much more complicated than other organs and tissues, it has a simple thing in common with muscle tissue. For a long time, we’ve known that if we don’t use our muscles their function will diminish over time. It turns out that the same holds true with our brain.

This means that your brain works best when you keep it active. If fact, staying active – both mentally and physically – are crucial for brain health. So is maintaining a healthy lifestyle. 


  1. PubMed Health. How does the brain work? Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072486 Accessed June 2018.

  2. Mayo Clinic. How your brain works. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/brain/sls-20077047?s=3 Accessed June 2018.

  3. Chudler EH. Neuroscience for kids. Available at:  https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/split.html Accessed October 2018.

  4. PubMed Health. Brain stem.  Available at:  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024736 Accessed October 2018.

  5. Ackerman S. Discovering the Brain. Chapter 2: Major structures and functions of the brain. Washington DC: National Academies Press, 1992. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK234157 Accessed October 2018.

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